In From Russia With Love (the novel), Tatiana Romanova was a ballerina in Leningrad before joining the Russian Secret Service, whereupon she was trained as a siren to seduce and execute James Bond. If not a conscious homage to Ian Fleming, this movie has a striking parallel in the character of Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence), whose mission, after a career-ending accident onstage at the Bolshoi, is to get into the sack with Nate (Joel Edgerton), an American spook, and discover through him the identity of a mole in the Kremlin. There is also a heavy dose of Flemingesque sadism in the murder and torture scenes plus, as a bonus for old-time fans of the genre, nudity that never made it into theatres when Albert Broccoli first took Bond from the page to the screen. As spy flicks go, this one is timeless in that there is no political context framing the narrative – not even a mention of Putin, other than as ‘the President’. It is purely and simply a Cold War drama, with the Ruskies as the evil megalomaniacs versus the West. Shot on location in Moscow and Budapest, and featuring lavish tea-rooms, grand hotels and a public indoor pool, the plot doesn’t get underway until after Domenika has finished her training as a whore under the guidance of the grim Matron (Charlotte Rampling). It’s a voyeuristic and (depending on your tastes) ugly sequence that has more to do with catering to pornographic fetishes than developing story and character, but it will get bums on seats. The morality is intensely anti-Russian – Nate is a saint compared to his opposites – and the script gets tricky at times. Lawrence is up against it, but she prevailed in The Hunger Games so you know that the gal is made of the right stuff – and she is drop dead gorgeous as a platinum blonde. But overall it’s just more grubby sexploitation pretending to be empowerment, but the sting in the tail is okay.
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