The news of director Francis Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence working together has been largely revelled in ever since the teaser trailer for Lionsgate’s adaptation of Jason Matthew’s contemporary spy thriller Red Sparrow dropped just over 5 months ago. The film stars the Oscar winning actress as ballerina Dominika Egorova, a Soviet spy tasked with targeting a CIA agent (Played by Joel Edgerton). I’ve decided to celebrate the release of Red Sparrow by compiling a list of the top five films that have starred Jennifer Lawrence.
Her Earth-moving level of talent is only matched by her ability to choose great roles and Lawrence has been a tour-de-force in Hollywood ever since she rose to fame with her role as the impoverished teenager Ree in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. But which movies will make it into the top five? Read on…
5. The Hunger Games Series.
Yes, I’m cheating already. But how could I not? The Hunger Games series is easily dichotomised – with Lawrence playing hero Katniss Everdeen as both a Hunger Games competitor and seasoned freedom fighter over the course of the quadrilogy. Directors Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence helped usher in a new style of young adult hero to fill the void left by the finale of the Harry Potter franchise and boy did they deliver! Off were the glasses and out were the bows and arrows – as well as the three-fingered gestures of defiance – as we were introduced to Katniss and co’ in the Ross-directed The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games itself is a futuristic bourgeois fantasy inflicted on the starving, proletariat population of Panem, and Katniss Everdeen rises to not only voluntarily fight in the games in place of her sister, but to break the paradigm itself in an effort to help bring the balance of power back in favour of the people. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss with a stoic confidence and her ability to easily break between hardened warrior and doting matriarch is something not often seen by such a young performer. Both Directors Ross and Lawrence helped craft a world that oozes cruelty – with the concept of lavishness itself being an oppressive drug that comes with its own cons. The Hunger Games series is a reserved and intelligent look into a world where mainstream capitalism and war intersect – which isn’t far off what we have now and for that reason, can still resonate as a terrifying example of what can happen if the balance of power shifts to the wrong side.
4. Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik’s 2010 adaptation of Winter’s Bone introduced Jennifer Lawrence as THE actress to watch. Lawrence earned her first Oscar nomination for the earnest portrayal of Ree, a struggling teenager trying to save her family home from being repossessed due to a ruling by the courts regarding the parole of her now missing criminal father. The film is a tense, tight-knit affair and Lawrence uses this to her advantage, overpowering established powerhouses such as Garret Dillahunt and John Hawkes, who also received an Oscar nomination for his role as Ree’s violent, nomadic Uncle Teardrop.
I felt for Ree both as a parental guardian and as an individual as she is left to investigate her father’s disappearance almost single-handedly. In fact, Winter’s Bone doesn’t shy away from having its female characters rise up when things get tough while the more-stereotypical Lone Ranger-like characters act out on auto-play in the background. Winter’s Bone portrays the rural strand of Missouri as an enigmatic place crippled by poverty yet cushioned by the great Southern hospitality and family values- even if those values were anything but legally carried out. The film’s care and attention to its characters and disturbing setting make it one of the more interesting contemporary Westerns out there.
3. American Hustle
Smart, hilarious and oddly touching, David O.Russell’s American Hustle is another stellar entry into the crime-thriller sub-genre that provides stories claiming to be “mostly true” such as Fargo. O’Russell is reunited with a plethora of his leading actors as we see experienced conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his female counterpart, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) cut a deal with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help catch other known criminals in the legal con of a lifetime. The film showcases the grim criminality beneath the excessive lifestyle of the late 1970s with each character’s attire screaming at you as they cross the screen, as if you’ll open a Pandora’s Box of madness if you gaze at any real part of them.
Russell invokes the work of other auteurs such as Martin Scorsese and P.T. Anderson as we are taken through stylishly sordid hotels and casinos. The standout performance is once again delivered by Lawrence who plays Roselyn, Irving’s devious wife, from whom he is separated. Brilliantly, she manages to inject pathos into this otherwise whacky crime story while enacting a plan of revenge straight out of her husband’s own playbook. Lawrence adds the crazy as Rosalyn but the true substance of her character rests on a bed of depressed resentment, as she feels trapped in her failed marriage, scared of moving on from a man only she truly knows.
We once again find Jennifer Lawrence teaming up with David O.Russell as they deliver arguably their best work as a duo. (The Silver Linings Playbook would be a more obvious choice. But who wants to be obvious?) Joy sees Lawrence playing the titular Joy Mangano, an inventor in this true-to-life tale of a downtrodden, jobless woman rising up to become the matriarch of her own entrepreneurial empire. We initially see her as a child, creative and bold. But in the present this identity is a distant memory, as those in her working class world, including her deadbeat father (Robert De Niro) and her ex husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), who both live in her basement by the way, discourage and belittle her into becoming no more than a lifeless skivvy. The film captures the struggles of the subjugated housewife in a beautiful vintage-style 35mm frame that visually emulates the sheen of classic televised Americana. A vastly underrated movie.
Mother! Is a shining piece of cinema buried deep for being unrelenting and destructive. Darren Aronofsky’s tale of good-girl-gone-beserk (woman, sorry) is one for the ages as Lawrence brings a new game that rests atop her Oscar-winning A-game and crushes it into the ground. Mother! can be described as a dark, disturbing, antagonistic, biblical BLACK comedy, as we see Lawrence’s titular Mother: an anxiety-stricken woman living in an intimidating household inside a vast-forested area with her husband. She is a doting housewife trying to single-handedly renovate the house while the facetiously titled “Him” (Javier Bardem), is a poet and artist struggling to battle writer’s block and produce something exceptional.
The Poet succeeds and produces a poem that is described by many as his “Magnus Opus.” And it’s on this note, where the film takes a dark turn. The Poet garners a following, which initially trickles into the home in the form of “Man and Woman” played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, but later on explodes in true Hollywood fashion as legions of followers, accompanied by cameramen with access to various forms of Social Media are welcomed into the house by an overly-gracious Him. Mother’s anxiety can’t take it and the effects of the crowd’s presence take their toll on both our main character and the house she is trying to renovate. One could say that it explores a woman’s anxious lifestyle being broken apart, but you could also see it as a tale that mirrors the Biblical tale of Genesis and goes from there. Mother! is Joy on steroids and Roselyn (from American Hustle) on Crack Cocaine, and helped solidify Lawrence as one of the greatest actresses working today.
Red Sparrow arrives in theatres on March 1st in the UK and March 2nd in the United States.
Now, in case you aren’t excited enough by all of that, here are some lovely images of Red Sparrow’s gorgeous cast as they attended the film’s European premiere, which took place on 19th February at the Vue West End, Leicester Square.