Review: ‘Thirteen Lives,’ starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell

July 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Thira “Aum” Chutikul, Popetorn “Two” Soonthornyanaku, Joel Edgerton, Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen in “Thirteen Lives” (Photo by Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Thirteen Lives”

Directed by Ron Howard

Some language in Thai with subtitles

Culture Representation: The dramatic film “Thirteen Lives” features a cast of white and Asian characters depicting working-class and middle-class people involved in the real-life mission to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach, who were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand, from June 23 to July 10, 2018.

Culture Clash: The rescuers had to overcome language barriers, cultural differences and conflicts over the best rescue methods in order to complete the mission. 

Culture Audience: “Thirteen Lives” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a very Hollywood and formulaic rescue mission story that sidelines or erases many of the perspectives of the real-life Asian people involved.

Viggo Mortensen, Tom Bateman, Colin Farrell and Thiraphat “Tui” Sajakul in “Thirteen Lives” (Photo by Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Thirteen Lives” is a bland, scripted counterpart to the superior documentary “The Rescue,” presented mainly from the perspectives of the rescuers who saved 13 people trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in 2018. This bloated drama fails to properly acknowledge the 13 Thai survivors who were trapped in the cave, in an ordeal that lasted 18 days. This misleadingly titled movie called “Thirteen Lives” isn’t about those 13 lives. It’s mostly about the lives of the two British men who are touted as the movie’s biggest heroes, with a third man from Australia as a pivotal hero sidekick.

The award-winning 2021 documentary “The Rescue” couldn’t have the perspectives of the trapped people (in 2018, they were 12 boys ranging in ages from 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old soccer coach) because Netflix bought the exclusive rights to their stories. However, as a dramatic and scripted film, “Thirteen Lives” (directed by Ron Howard and written by William Nicholson) had the freedom to at least give viewers a sense of what it must have been like for the 13 survivors to go through this ordeal, based on news reports and what the survivors and their families told the media. As it stands, “Thirteen Lives” gives the bare minimum of screen time to the Thai people who suffered the most during this crisis.

Instead, the movie is all about giving the most screen time and praise to the British and Australian cave divers who volunteered their services, with Thai cave divers and Thai officials treated as supporting characters. Two middle-aged Brits in particular are spotlighted as the chief heroes: Rick Stanton (played by Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (played by Colin Farrell), two cave-diving friends who volunteered their services and sometimes have to battle against stubborn Thai officials who are skeptical of Rick’s and John’s ideas. “Thirteen Lives” shows more information about John’s family than any of the families of the trapped victims combined.

The crisis began on June 23, 2018, when the boys (who were all on the same soccer team) and the team’s assistant coach decided to spend some time exploring the cave in the afternoon. Located in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, the cave stretches for 10,000 meters or 6.2 miles. Monsoon rain storms that were expected later that summer arrived earlier than expected and flooded the cave, thereby trapping the boys and their coach. “Thirteen Lives” gives only one child in the group anything resembling acknowledgement that he is an individual human being. His name in the movie is Chai (played by Pasakorn Hoyhon), but there is very little revealed about him or his personality.

Chai’s mother Buahom (played by Pattrakorn Tungsupakul) is the only parent of the 12 boys who has screen time that shows something that looks like individuality. She’s the only parent in “Thirteen Lives” who’s given specific scenes where she’s shown talking to rescue officials (often in angry frustration) to get the latest information on the search and rescue efforts. Before she finds out that Chai is trapped in a cave, Buahom mentions early on in the movie that she wishes that she could go to more of his soccer games, but she can’t because she has to work. That’s all the information that viewers will get about her.

“Thirteen Lives” makes Bauahom such a marginal role, viewers will have a hard time remembering if her first name was even said in the movie. It’s almost offensive how “Thirteen Lives” makes Bauahom the “token family member” and brushes aside all the other survivors’ family members who were in agony too. Any other family members shown in the movie are essentially background characters, with few of them having any lines of dialogue.

Meanwhile, “Thirteen Lives” gives plenty of time for viewers to get to know John (an information technology consultant) and Rick (a retired firefighter), both natives of England who share a passion for cave diving in their spare time. John is a happily married father who is shown at home with his family before and after he goes to Thailand for this rescue mission. Rick’s personal life is not shown, but he mentions at one point that he doesn’t like kids very much.

John tends to be optimistic. Rick tends to be pessimistic. The movie shows that it was John’s idea to contact Rick to be a part of this rescue mission after it made international news. The two men, who have been on-again/off-again close friends in their social circle of cave diving fanatics, consider themselves to be experts with years of experience diving in the types of caves where most people would not dare to go.

John’s and Rick’s names end up on a list of potential rescuers given to the Thai government when the Thai Navy SEALs find out almost all of the Thai Navy SEALs don’t have the training to dive in the type of cave where the boys and their coach are trapped. Thai officials and rescuers are put in the story as either helpful or not-very-helpful to what John and Rick want to do. Expect to see trite and predictable scenes of language barriers and egos having an effect on any tension-filled communication between the non-Thai people and the Thai people.

Vern Unsworth (played by Lewis Fitz-Gerald) is another Brit cave diver who’s on the scene because he’s very familiar with the cave. He’s in his 60s and is more experienced than John and Rick when it comes to knowing about Thai government politics. He tells his fellow Brits that Governor Narongsak (played by Sahajak Boonthanakit) is on his way out of office, but the governor was asked to stay on the job during this cave crisis, “in case they need a fall guy” if anyone dies.

Other rescue cave divers who make appearances include Thai Navy SEALs named Commander Kiet (played by Thira Chutikul), Suman (played Sukollawat Kanarot) and Pichai (played by Bernard Sam), who are all written as very generic characters. If you know what happened in real life, then you know that one of these Thai Navy SEALs heroically died during this rescue. (His death and funeral are depicted in “Thirteen Lives.”) One of the rescue cave divers is a Thai medical professional named Dr. Karn (played by Popetorn Soonthornyanakij), who can speak Thai and English.

Other military officials depicted in “Thirteen Lives” include Thailand’s minister of interior General Anupong (played by Vithaya Pansringarm) and the U.S. Air Force’s Major Hodges (played by Josh Helman) and Captain Olivia Taft (played by Zahra Newman), who is the token female military character to have a speaking role in the movie. All of these supporting roles are written as ultimately following what John and Rick want to do. Because most people watching this movie already know the real-life outcome of this rescue mission, there’s no real suspense in any of these decision-making conflicts.

There are two other Westerners who end up featuring prominently in “Thirteen Lives” as rescuers: British Cave Rescue Council member Chris Jewell (played by Tom Bateman) has the role of the strapping young cave diver who is supposed to be less experienced than John and Rick. And then there’s anesthesiologist Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (played by Joel Edgerton), an Australian who’s called on by Rick and John later in the movie to implement a radical and risky idea.

While all this political maneuvering and ego posturing is going on outside the cave, “Thirteen Lives” viewers get only the briefest of glimpses on what the trapped victims were experiencing inside the cave. There’s so much about their survival that was in the news in real life that was left out of “Thirteen Lives,” because apparently the filmmakers thought it was more important to have scenes of Rick and John moping around when they were both temporarily barred from being part of the search and rescue.

When Rick is part of the team that finds the boys and the coach, he has this to say in a private conversation with John: “I knew we’d find them. I didn’t expect to find them alive.” The movie is filled with maudlin dialogue. John and Rick show very little interest in knowing who the boys and the coach are, perhaps as a way not to get too personally involved with people who might die in the cave. In the movie, John and Rick are depicted as more concerned about their own reputations as cave divers and rescuers.

“Thirteen Lives” gives viewers only superficial snippets of what it took for these boys and their coach to survive under these extremely traumatic conditions. In one scene, the boys tell their rescuers that Coach Ek (played by Teeradon Supapunpinyo) instructed them to meditate and not let fear overtake them. The boys are depicted as stoic, with almost no filmmaker effort to put names to faces, except for Chai, who still has a non-descript personality.

Getting the trapped people out of the cave was complicated by the tricky and dangerous route to get to their location in the cave. Numerous people inside and outside the cave also had to keep diverting rain water to prevent more flooding. Therefore, it took several days after the survivors were found until they could be removed from the cave. All of this is depicted in “Thirteen Lives” in a very perfunctory, “by the numbers” manner, with little regard to what the people trapped inside the cave must have been feeling.

The stops and starts of this rescue also drag down “Thirteen Lives,” to the point where even the rescuers look bored at times. No one does a terrible acting performance in the movie, but “Thirteen Lives” is by no means going to win any major awards for its acting performances. And at an overly long total run time of nearly two-and-half-hours, “Thirteen Lives” would have greatly benefited from better editing. There are only so many times when viewers need to see clinical-looking timelines focusing on scowling Rick and worried John before it gets tedious very quickly.

While these two rescuers are brooding in their hotel or at the rescue camp, there’s a more urgent and compelling story inside the cave that’s shut out of this movie. If people expect “Thirteen Lives” to give fascinating or informative insight into what it’s like to survive while trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days with very little food and fresh water, then there will be viewer disappointment, because “Thirteen Lives” is not that movie. There’s a lot of information in the public domain about this survival story that the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers chose not to put in the movie. The messages that the trapped people sent to their loved ones get barely one or two minutes of screen time in “Thirteen Lives.”

Toward the end of the movie, there’s a brief flash of a message board displaying the photos of the 13 trapped victims, but no one ever says all of their individual names out loud in “Thirteen Lives,” even though these survivors are the movie’s namesakes. Only a few of their names are mentioned, but the movie gives no depictions of their individual personalities. Even if the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers couldn’t use the real-life names, they could have given viewers an empathetic sense of who these survivors are as people, but the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers chose not to do that. This omission is a travesty and a major failing of “Thirteen Lives.”

The survivors’ family members are sidelined for most of the movie as mostly nameless, weeping and praying people whose anguish is given the Hollywood treatment. Their traumatic experiences are treated as a lot less important than pushing the narrative that the Thai people were ineffective in this crisis until non-Thai people came to the rescue with the best ideas and the best skill sets. Any teamwork shown in the movie is with a tone that the Westerners/non-Thai people are the superior ones on the team.

This real-life cave rescue has been the basis of several on-screen retellings of the story. In addition to “Thirteen Lives” and “The Rescue,” there’s the dramatic movie “The Cave,” which was originally released in Thailand in 2019, and is set for a theatrical and home video release in the U.S. (under the title “Cave Rescue”) via Lionsgate on August 5, 2022—the same date that “Thirteen Lives” premieres on Prime Video. Written and directed by Tom Waller, “The Cave”/”Cave Rescue” (which got mostly negative reviews) features a cast of little-known actors and some of the real-live cave divers portraying themselves. In addition, Netflix’s limited drama series “Thai Cave Rescue” is set to premiere on September 22, 2022.

While all these film and TV people are trying to cash in on this story, here are the names of the survivors of this crisis: Mongkhon “Mark” Bunpiam, Somphong “Pong” Chaiwong, Ekkaphon “Eak” Kanthawong (the coach), Phonchai “Tee” Khamluang, Duangphet “Dom” Phromthep, Phiphat “Nick” Phothi, Phanumat “Mig” Saengdi, Adun “Dul” Sam-on, Phiraphat “Night” Somphiangchai, Prachak “Note” Sutham, Natthawut “Tern” Thakhamsong, Chanin “Titan” Wibunrungrueang and Ekkarat “Bew” Wongsukchan.

“Thirteen Lives” might not want viewers to know their individual names, but anyone who really cares about this true story should at least acknowledge that these survivors are people with their own individual lives, hopes and dreams. Their survival story is inspirational, but “Thirteen Lives” uses it as a cynical plot device. These survivors shouldn’t be mostly nameless and generic background characters to put in a Hollywood movie, in order to make other people look more important.

United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Thirteen Lives” in select U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022. Prime Video will premiere the movie on August 5, 2022.

Review: ‘The Green Knight,’ starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris and Ralph Ineson

July 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dev Patel and Sean Harris in “The Green Knight” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Green Knight”

Directed by David Lowery

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unspecified ancient time in England, the fantasy horror film “The Green Knight” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Indians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Arthur’s adventure-seeking nephew Gawain volunteers to take a life-threatening challenge from the Green Knight, and Gawain encounters many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Culture Audience: “The Green Knight” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in an atmospheric and heady reimagining of the King Arthur legends.

Ralph Ineson (forefront) in “The Green Knight” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Green Knight” brings an unconventional horror spin on the King Arthur legends by putting more emphasis on the human mind and spirit experiencing terror rather than on elaborate and bloody physical battles. People who are expecting “The Green Knight” to be a fast-paced action film might be disappointed by the movie’s slow pacing. However, viewers who are patient enough to go on this “head trip” of a movie will find a lot to marvel and ponder in this cinematic retelling of ancient literature.

Written and directed by David Lowery (who has a tendency to make deliberately paced films with complicated protagonists), “The Green Knight” is told in chapters, with each chapter title appearing on the screen. “The Green Knight” is a filmed adaptation of an anonymously written chivalric romance called “Gawain and the Green Knight,” which was published in the 14th century. Do viewers have to know this story or any Arthurian legends before seeing “The Green Knight”? No, but it helps.

“The Green Knight” begins during a Christmas season and ends one year later. In the opening of the movie, rebellious and stubborn knight Gawain (played by Dev Patel) has spent the night before Christmas getting drunk and being with his lover Helen (played by Anais Rizzo), who is a commoner. When Gawain comes home, his nameless mother (played by Sarita Choudhury) asks Gawain where he was all night. Gawain lies and says that he was attending Mass. His mother, who smells the liquor on him, replies sarcastically, “Have you been drinking the sacrament all night?”

Gawain’s mother is the sister of the king (played by Sean Harris), who rules over the kingdom with his queen wife (played Kate Dickie). Although these ruling royals do not have names in this movie, all indications are that the king is the legendary King Arthur. Gawain might have lived a carefree lifestyle as the nephew of a king, but that will soon change in this story.

On Christmas Day, the king, queen, the Knights of the Round Table (including Gawain) and other assorted people have gathered for a formal court meeting. The king summons Gawain to sit beside him on the throne and remarks that it’s the first time that he’s given this privileged invitation to Gawain. The king asks that Gawain give him a very specific Christmas gift: Gawain must tell a tale about himself.

No sooner does the king make this request when the Green Knight (played by Ralph Ineson) appears on horseback in the court. In this movie, the Green Knight doesn’t look completely human, but more like a cross between a human and a tree. The Green Knight, who tests the characters of men, has arrived to deliver a challenge.

The written message that the Green Knight delivers upon his arrival is read by the queen, and the voice that comes out of her mouth is a deep and eerie man’s voice, as if the Green Knight is reading it himself. It’s one of many spooky touches to the film that Lowery adds to ensure that viewers know that this isn’t a typical knight movie. Get used to seeing a lot of cinematography drenched in mist when watching “The Green Knight.”

The Green Knight’s challenge is simple but one that would strike fear in the heart of the average person. The Green Knight dares any knight to behead the Green Knight. And in return, the Green Knight will behead his killer exactly one year later, at the Green Knight’s Green Chapel. Gawain is the only person to voluntarily step forward and accept this challenge.

Why would anyone take this dare? The king whispers to Gawain, “Remember it’s only a game,” as he gives Gawain a sword to use for the beheading. The Green Knight lays down his axe in a sign of surrender. Gawain beheads the Green Knight, who gets up, picks up his own head, and then chuckles, “One year hence,” as he gallops away on his horse, leaving his axe behind.

The movie then fast-forwards to nearly a year later. Gawain is on a mission to find the Green Knight at the Green Chapel, where they agreed to meet for the promised beheading. Along the way, Gawain encounters various dangers and complications that could impede his journey. And all the while, viewers (even those who’ve read the book) will be wondering if Gawain really will be beheaded, or if his life will be spared if he sees the Green Knight again.

Gawain meets several new people in his travels, including a thieving, nameless scavenger (played by Barry Keoghan); a red-haired trauma victim in a long white nightgown named Winifred (played by Erin Kellyman); and a gregarious unnamed lord (played by Joel Edgerton) and his seductive wife Essel (played by Alicia Vikander), also described in the film credits as The Lay. An intelligent red fox ends up accompanying Gawain and becomes his companion for part of his trek.

The lord and his lady live in a castle with a mute, unnamed elderly woman, who is always blindfolded. (No explanation is given on who this woman is, and Gawain doesn’t ask.) The couple invites Gawain to spend the night in their home on December 21, just a few days before Gawain is supposed to make the Christmas deadline to meet up with the Green Knight. What happens in the home is a turning point in the movie, which makes some big changes from the original source material.

“The Green Knight” takes admirable risks in not following the conventional tropes found in movies about a knight on an adventure. There are no massive battleground scenes, no damsel in distress who’s the knight’s love interest, no kingdom whose leadership is in jeopardy. And although “The Green Knight” has many elements of a horror movie (including some bloody gore), the real fear in this movie is Gawain’s dread of holding up his end of the bargain. His integrity is at stake, as well as his life.

The movie has some strikingly haunting visuals that are times psychedelic. In a memorable sequence, Gawain encounters giant nude, androgynous people (who are the size of skyscrapers) while trying to find the Green Chapel. Gawain tries to talk to one of these giant people as they walk past him, but communication is difficult, and they can’t really understand each other. It’s a very hallucinogenic and effective scene.

“The Green Knight” also doesn’t shy away from references to brutality toward women, in an era where women were treated like property. When Gawain first meets Winifred, she mentions that a lord tried to rape her and beheaded her when she resisted. Gawain is initially confused because Winifred looks like a person who is alive, not a ghost. However, the way Winifred manifests herself in this story—whether she’s alive, dead or somewhere in between—is on her own terms, as if she’s taken back the power that was stolen from her.

Patel’s depiction of Gawain is as a flawed but well-intentioned hero. It’s an understated role where he rises to the occasion of expressing a wide range of emotions without distracting melodrama and while still portraying a character who must present a stoic demeanor to strangers. The other characters in “The Green Knight” are somewhat two-dimensional and/or have very limited screen time.

However, Edgerton’s portrayal of the lord and Vikander’s portrayal of his wife Essel are intriguing and make enough of an impact to suggest that this couple could easily have an entire movie about their lives together. But make no mistake: The humanity of “The Green Knight” resonates mostly because of Patel’s layered performance, which never lets viewers forget that Gawain is a human being who can falter, not as an unrealistic knight who will always put fear aside to rise to the occasion.

Some of the visuals in “The Green Knight” have themes of Christianity versus paganism, or humans versus the environment. Although there’s violence in the movie, it’s not gratuitous. Lowery is the type of filmmaker who takes his time in immersing viewers in the movie’s unique atmosphere instead of rushing from scene to scene and dialogue to dialogue. And there are no gimmicky jump scares.

Many other horror stories rely on the premise that murder victims don’t know when they’re going to die. “The Green Knight” skillfully presents a different type of horror: Someone who volunteered to die at a pre-determined date. Gawain spends most of this treacherous journey by himself, as he reflects on his own mortality, as well as his own morality.

In its clever way, “The Green Knight” is an artistically creative statement of how it’s human nature for people not to want to think about their own deaths. People who have to confront their own deaths usually have to face another fear: reflecting on their lives and holding themselves accountable for their misdeeds and mistakes.

A24 will release “The Green Knight” in U.S. cinemas on July 30, 2021.

Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton get caught up in a web of sex, lies and spies in ‘Red Sparrow’

March 2, 2018

by Carla Hay

Jennifer Lawrence, Francis Lawrence and Joel Edgerton at a New York City press conference for "Red Sparrow" (Photo by Carla Hay)
Jennifer Lawrence, Francis Lawrence and Joel Edgerton at a New York City press conference for “Red Sparrow” (Photo by Carla Hay)

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence takes on the edgiest role of her career so far in the spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” in which she plays Russian former ballerina Dominika Egorova, who is forced to work for her government as a spy in order to stay alive and provide housing and medical care for her ailing mother, Nina Egorova (played by Joely Richardson). As part of her training Dominika is sent to a “Sparrow school,” which brutally teaches its students (who are called Sparrows) how to manipulate people through sex, lies and violence. During her work as a spy, Dominika meets CIA operative Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton), and their relationship turns romantic but keeps the audience guessing about where their loyalties really lie and if one person will betray the other.

“Red Sparrow” is based on former CIA operative Jason Matthews’ 2013 best-selling novel of the same name. The movie was directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer Lawrence), who previously worked with Jennifer on three of the four movies in “The Hunger Games” series. With plenty of violence that includes scenes of torture and sexual assault, “Red Sparrow” is geared to adults more than most mainstream spy films. Other members of the “Red Sparrow” cast include Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Ciarán Hinds Here is what Jennifer Lawrence, Edgerton and Francis Lawrence said when they gathered for a “Red Sparrow” press conference in New York City.

Jennifer and Francis, after working together on three “Hunger Games” films, you knew that you clicked beautifully. What was it about “Red Sparrow” that made you want to reunite?

Francis Lawrence: I was finishing “Mockingjay 2” when Fox sent me the [“Red Sparrow”] book, and I read it. I thought of Jen. Obviously, she’s a fantastic actress, so I knew she could really do an amazing job with the role. She’s also really fun to work with …

Jennifer Lawrence: I like this.

Francis Lawrence: So I thought that would be nice. And I also thought she could look Russian.

Jennifer Lawrence: I really like this!

Francis Lawrence: So when I finished reading the book, I called her up and I said, “Hey, hypothetically, I know you haven’t read it, but would you interested in playing a character like this?” And she said, ‘Yes.” And so we developed it with her in mind.

Jennifer, what was the key to discovering the Dominika character?

Jennifer Lawrence: There were so many things. I think the unique perspective on a life of a spy I’ve never seen a spay movie done this way, where it’s not glamourizing anything. It’s actually about the brutality of such a lifestyle, the anxiety, the lies, the deceit. And seeing this world of abuse, especially sexual abuse, through the lens of a woman who comes out and gets her power back by using her intellect—all of it was just very inspiring to me.

You trained in ballet in preparation for “Red Sparrow.” That was a whole new thing for you, right?

Jennifer Lawrence: That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life … It was actually amazing. Halfway through I was like, “Oh my God!” Because my overall end goal is not to be a ballerina, so I was having trouble finding the wherewithal to keep going. But then halfway through training, I started feeling my muscles changing and my body language changing.

And also just understanding the mental and physical discipline and the mindset of a dancer, I realized that all of this work was actually character-building. It changed the way she moved, it changed the way she looked and walked. It was just another layer on Dominika. And then I finished and just threw my shoes and ripped the tutu off. Out! Done!

Joel, there is such an honesty and sense of honor to your Nate Nash character. Was that one of the keys to understanding this character?

Edgerton: Yeah. It seemed to me from meeting Jason [Matthews], who wrote the book and was himself an ex-CIA operative, I suspect that there’s a lot of operatives who go out into the field because they think they can make the world a better place. And having that optimistic view of the world also, ironically, makes Nate kind of bad at his job in the eyes of his superiors. “You should be more cynical. You should put every judgment through a more cynical filter.”

But I think Jason must think it’s one of those things about working for the government: You start with that feeling that the world should be a better place and you should make your mark on that. I just think Nate is truly a good guy. And on the flip side of the men in [Dominika’s] life is someone who also wants to be a crusader for a damaged woman, but she doesn’t necessarily need him to get her vengeance, which I think is cool.

Do you think Nate’s honesty puts him ahead of the game?

Edgerton: Ahead of the game and behind the game. It’s like if you’re going to the Olympics, and you’re not a drug cheat, you’re in one of the final eight lanes, but you’re probably not going to win at the end of the day. “Red Sparrow 2” is going to be all about Nate’s corruption. I’m joking.

In an era where there are drones flying around and there’s big-scale espionage, “Red Sparrow” really feels like spying is more person-to-person interaction.

Francis Lawrence: One of the things I loved about the book was that it felt really authentic. I think it’s the most genre-specific thing I’ve ever done. I’ve always been a bit wary of doing things that are really specific to a genre, because they’re typically well-worn. So you want to do something that you want to be unique. The authenticity of the world felt very unique to me. And the character journey felt unique. And the humanity of the characters involved felt unique to me.

Jennifer and Francis, since “Red Sparrow” is your fourth film together, did you find a new groove or try something different?

Jennifer Lawrence: The way we work was the same. Our friendship was the same. The subject matter was different. It was nice to start a new world and a new character. All of that was nice.

Francis Lawrence: The only thing I thought was different was because of the content of the movie, the conversations started much earlier than they normally would have between us. I think Jen was much more of a partner in the making of the movie much earlier than she had been on “The Hunger Games” films with me, in terms of script development and thinking about how specific content is going to play within a story. But the dynamic was the same. I think we worked differently and more thoroughly, I would say, than we had before.

Jennifer, is it true that Francis gave you little bits about the story here and there instead of telling you the full story before you agreed to do the movie?

Jennifer Lawrence: He planted seeds. He would talk to me about it a little bit. He’s known about my insecurities around sexuality and my fear of being judged. He knew about these fears that I had. But I think what he didn’t expect was for me to read the script and actually feel floored by it and feeling like it was incredibly empowering. I remember thinking that if I were to miss out on making something this absolutely fantastic and playing this amazing character because of these insecurities, I would lose. [She says to Francis Lawrence] I don’t know if that surprised you or not.

Francis Lawrence: I was not positive that you were going to do the movie.

Jennifer Lawrence: Yeah, me neither.

Francis Lawrence: That’s why I was doling out information carefully. I didn’t want you to pass on the movie even before we had a script. I think that I wanted you to either say yes or no to the thing I wanted to actually make, and not just random ideas from a conversation.

Dominika uses her body and her sexuality to achieve her goals, but in the end, it’s her mind and intelligence that prove to be the most useful. Was that part of the character process for you in watching that character’s journey?

Jennifer Lawrence: That’s one of the marks of an amazing spy movie—everything gets turned on its head. There are so many twists and turns in this movie. You never see where anything is going. You look at this movie from the outside and you see the Sparrow program, which is very inhumane and sexualized. These young men and women are being trained in the art of physical seduction, but in the end, she gets ahead by using her mind.

These Sparrow training schools really existed in Russia, right?

Jennifer Lawrence: Yeah. It was used by the KGB. It could still by the SVR. We have no way of knowing. America actually tried to use it in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but it didn’t work because of the cultural difference between Russia and America. They would try to blackmail somebody, like say, “We’ll send these photos to your wife,” and they’d be like [says in a defiant voice], “Do it.” In America, they’d be like “Damn.”

Joel, did Jason Matthews give you any clues on how a real CIA operative would act in these situations?

Edgerton: I learned a lot from Jason. And strangely, I almost learned a lot more from his wife, because she was an operative as well. Dating in the field is something that is a little dicey because there’s a third party involved. You go on a date, and you’ve got to report it to your bosses, and that person has to be vetted as well. I guess it helped the two of them that they were already both in the agency.

Francis’ point about the human nature of the story, rather than the constant gun-battle, car-flipping part of this world—and there is that element to this movie—but the human aspect to the character. I was very curious about the day-to-day life, the constant anxiety and the constant loneliness, particularly for characters like Nate.

It’s easy to forget when thinking about spies in the James Bond and “Mission: Impossible” context that they still bleed red blood, and they still have to cook breakfast. I love finding out those things about characters—it’s just constantly grounding them.

There’s a lot of graphic sexuality and violence in “Red Sparrow.” What was it like to film all of that?

Francis Lawrence: Once Jen signed on, we started a real series of conversations about the content and what the tone of that would be and the theme and character and the narrative. We had to be really, really careful that we did those scenes were done right. So those conversations started really early, partially so that we weren’t really going to tiptoe around any of that stuff.

It’s very easy for people to get shy about that kind of material. Had we not broken the ice early, the next thing you know, you’re coming up to that scene, and you don’t know how to talk about it, and you’re worried about it. You’ve just got to be as open as possible. So that’s where it all got started. Then when you have a scene with these two in an apartment, it’s very easy to have a conversation and it becomes work.

You also create a sense of privacy, so you only have the people who need to be there, and you tent off the monitors, and that footage only goes to me and the editor. It doesn’t even go to the studio. It doesn’t go to the producers. So they feel they protected in that way. For me, it’s about openness and honesty.

In terms of the violent stuff, I keep hearing about the skin-grafting scene. People keep talking about how intense that is. It’s so shocking to me, because on the day [of shooting that scene[,it actually feels kind of silly sometimes. Joel’s tied to this chair in his underwear writhing around, and there’s this guy with a little rubber prop moving it along his back …

Edgerton: Everyone’s game to make it look terrifying, but at the end of the day, it is a little silly.

Jennifer Lawrence: [She says jokingly] I don’t know if we’re selling the movie correctly. I think we should talk.

Francis Lawrence: I think what ended up really selling the scene was Joel’s reaction, his whole visceral body reaction. And the sound that the sound designers did, what they used for the skin-grafting tool was just fantastic.

Edgerton: First of all, hats off to Francis in the handling of those sexual scenes to make it about the brutality and not some kind of attempt to excite an audience. But it is interesting when you get to deal with actor on set. It’s amazing how actors when working on scenes, as much as you can tiptoe around actors, when director wants you to do something, when you’ve checked into a project, it’s amazing how game you are for anything.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety leading up to it, and you may wrestle with your own demons about it, but you’re game. It’s amazing what great actors are capable of doing. I’m always amazed at watching people from a distance the way they fearlessly handle stuff. This movie is one of those.

Jennifer Lawrence: Like Francis said, the reality is shooting is so much different from watching. It’s so much harder to watch. On the day [of shooting], everything so technical. It’s funny because I feel like Francis has known me since I was a child. He’s like a paternal figure to me. [She says to Francis Lawrence] I hope that doesn’t make you feel weird or uncomfortable.

And the camera guys I’ve known since I was little. It was almost like being in a nude house, you know like those families who get naked in front of each other. It felt like that.

Edgerton: I think it was weirder for them than it was for you.

Jennifer Lawrence: I think it was way weirder. I accidentally moved something and flashed the camera guys, and they were like [she says in a horrified voice], “Oh my God!”

And then here was that time I accidentally made a mistake [about] Francis’ intentions of coming into my dressing room. He was being very respectful throughout the underwear process of finding the right lingerie. When I would go into fittings, they wouldn’t take pictures. You never really go on camera without the director approving your lingerie.

And so they were like, “Jen, Francis is here to see you.” And I was like, “Okay, send him in.” And he walks in and was like, “Oh my God! What are you doing!” I was like, “I thought you came in to see the costume!” There was a lot of laughter throughout the whole thing … but watching them was more disturbing.

When you filmed “Red Sparrow” in 2017, you probably couldn’t imagine the state of affairs the world would be in a year later. Can you comment on that?

Francis Lawrence: It’s clear that the movie certainly reflects the world we live in today, but there were certain aspects of that didn’t feel all that relevant. We never set out to make a political movie by any means, but I remember having conversations with the studio in the development process, and somebody saying, “This modern Cold War thing doesn’t feel relevant; it doesn’t feel all that realistic.”

But again, it wasn’t all that of an important element to us and to the movie, and we kind of rolled on. And then we were in Budapest, we were in pre-production, the [2016 U.S. presidential] election was happening, and this stuff starts coming up in the news. And suddenly, the movie is becoming more and more topical—at least that element in the movie is becoming more and more topical.

Jennifer Lawrence: The relevancy really kind of landed in our laps, but so many of the themes in this movie have consistently been relevant—the abuse, the manipulation and the use of women and their bodies and harassment and unsafe workplaces. A lot of these themes have always been relevant. Nobody should put any sort of political weight in this movie. It is fiction.

Edgerton: Sometimes you make something and it grows and hits an intersection with something a little more resonant than you expect. I think on the one hand, it’s not about election meddling or that sort of collusion, but there’s definitely a deep curiosity that still exists—maybe it was dormant for a couple of decades—about Russia when you look at it from an American perspective.

“What do they want? What are they doing over there? What’s behind that curtain?”

Every time it comes up, we get curious about it. So yeah, it’s good for us in that regard. As far as the subject of women taking back power. Anything that supports that or reflects that in a story form is also awesome.

Can you talk about how “Red Sparrow” feels modern with classic elements of film? Was Alfred Hitchcock an influence?

Francis Lawrence: I would say not really any particular film, but Hitchcock was definitely an influence for me in this, even down to weird little things. The use of screen direction in the opening sequence.

I remember learning about in “Strangers on a Train,” there’s a great bit in the opening of the film where a car pulls up, right to left, and feet get out, moving right to left, and then car pulls up left to right. And you feel the collision course purely based on screen direction before these two men ever meet. And then they sit on the train, their feet touch, and the movie starts.

And so, I did the same thing with Nate and Dominika, where Dominika is always left to right, and Nate is always right to left. And you feel the collision course between the two of them is inevitable.

Jennifer Lawrence: I didn’t know you did that. That’s really cool.

Francis Lawrence: I did. It’s some of those things you don’t need to know.

Jennifer Lawrence: I don’t know why your movies are good. They’re just good.

Francis Lawrence: There was definitely a [Hitchcock] influence. When we were trying to find the sound for the music, I was using a lot of classical ballet as reference, and listening to a lot of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky and things like that. And then James [Newton Howard, the composer of “Red Sparrow”] and I sort of stumbled on this weird mix of Russian-ballet-meets-Bernard-Hermann, and that’s what created that sound.

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