Jacob Richardson | 5/03/2018
Brutally violent and unflinchingly raw, Red Sparrow is not at all what you were expecting.
Ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is poised for a life of grandeur, until a jealous dancing rival has her leg broken mid performance. With no other way to provide for her sick mother, she accepts a job offer from her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) to become a Sparrow; an unflinching spy, trained to use her sexuality to carry out assassinations and missions for mother Russia. She hates it, but when she meets her first assignment CIA man Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), she finds herself with a chance to get out of her unwarranted predicament.
Reunited with Hunger Games director (at least the last three installments) Francis Lawrence, Lawrence takes some real risks with this piece. It’s an interesting choice for the young starlet, who revels in avoiding the mainstream (look at her recent Mother!). Here, she is just as fantastic as you would expect, bringing a warmth and vulnerability through her cold-hearted Russian assassin exterior that lends more empathy than, say, Charlize in Atomic Blonde.
Edgerton, too, is typically fantastic, convincing as a spy with a heart of gold. And while the spectacular supporting cast (Irons, Rampling, Hinds, etc.) possesses a widely varying range of accents bordering on eastern European, they all bring their prodigious acting talents to bear on the film in spades. Which makes it interesting that this piece doesn’t really land.
Densely plotted like a le Carre novel, but without any of the associated smarts, Red Sparrow seems intent on subverting it’s intriguing political power play story with as much gratuitous nudity, abuse and violence as possible. There are a number of particularly gruesome scenes that will have you recoiling from the screen, and while that is all well and good, we never really feel like the hero is in true danger.
There is a brief period of suspense when Edgerton is in danger, and the film finally kicks into a gear. But then all too soon he is saved, and the film returns to it’s lazy idea of danger; a world where Lawrence, as a novice spy on her first mission, is utterly infallible and able to outsmart everyone around her. Now that may well be true, but Francis Lawrence never gives us a good enough indication of her prodigal awareness or skill, particularly when it comes to feats of strength. And while the film is beautifully shot, and full of great set pieces, the twisty turny finale fails to land because we get close to Dominika, but are never shown the depths of her skill until the very end. We’re left marvelling at her prescience, when really we shouldn’t be that surprised. It’s the sort of twist you would usually see in an antagonist character, and there it’s fine because the antagonist is supposed to be shrouded in shadow and unknowable, but when you transport that same twist to the protagonist, you carve up the image the audience has in their head of her as much as the baddies in this Cold War throwback seem to enjoy carving up human beings.
Red Sparrow functions adequately, but you wish they had of spent as much time on quality dialogue and plotting as they did on pushing the boundaries of violence and sexuality.