"Red Sparrow" Review
The first thing you’ll notice when watching Red Sparrow is how edgy it tries to be. In a matter of 140 minutes, Jennifer Lawrence is handicapped, raped, forced to strip, taught to be a seductress, and tortured. None of this comes off as a storytelling mechanism, instead, it just ends up being exploitative action that tries to sustain your waning attention from its overlong runtime and dull plot.
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is one of Russia’s top ballet dancers, but all of that changes when a gruesome stage accident breaks her leg and ruins her career. Desperate to be able to afford taking care of her sick mother, Dominika reluctantly agrees to become an agent for the state and to be trained to become a “Sparrow”, young soldiers who use sexual tactics to get close and eliminate high-value targets. Heading the program is Matron (Charlotte Rampling), who breaks and molds Dominika into the perfect sexual soldier.
Her first mission, which is being led by her devious uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), is to track down and get close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is hiding out in Istanbul. Nash has a contact within the KGB that is feeding him state secrets, something the Russian government fears will make them fall behind in the new Cold War.
The plot has been done before and better by a multitude of films, most notably 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There’s a revolving door of sets as we trot around the globe in a game of cat and mouse. None of the locations are that interesting and, except some nice touristy shots, feel like they are only included for name value.
The film fails quite miserably to act on its main theme of female empowerment. Dominika is never once given the chance to be empowering or independent since the whole time she is being controlled by someone else. This is quite the surprise as director Francis Lawrence worked with star Jennifer Lawrence on the last three Hunger Games films. You would think he would know how to use her to fulfill his purpose.
Director Lawrence also feels like he is overcompensating here. His overuse of action and sex takes away from the already conventional plot, something I don’t think Lawrence knew when he was doing it. I think he felt he had a smart story that could be boosted by hard action. But what he really had was an overlong run of the mill spy caper that, apart from a pretty good ending, is dampened by cheap thrills that come off as a poor attempt to get a reaction.
The two stars, Lawrence and Edgerton, each give adequate performances to make up for their inadequate characters. They work fine independently in separate locations, but together they don’t mesh well. Their relationship feels very forced and fake, which can be attributed to the director as much as the actors.
The film does bolster a surprisingly large supporting cast of established actors. The problem is that none of them really get enough material to make themselves stand out. Schoenaerts and Rampling do the best, mostly because I could actually remember their characters names once the film was over. Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds fall into the background as stereotypical Russian officials that have no interesting traits. They both do a fine job, but it doesn’t really matter in the end.
Red Sparrow sells itself on being a spy film for adults, one with a complex plot and hard edge action. That promise never comes to fruition because we learn instead that this film is nothing more than a generic spy thriller with a lot more unneeded violence. My review is sounding very harsh on the film, mostly because it’s really easy to point all the things this film does wrong. Overall, it’s passable, but not memorable.