1st March 2018 (UK)
Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to 'Sparrow School,' a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.
Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts
I’d not seen the trailer before watching Red Sparrow. From the synopsis and poster alone, I (wrongly) assumed it would be along the lines of the faster-paced movies like the Angelina Jolie action vehicle Salt or Zoe Saldana’s stone-cold assassin picture Colombiana. Instead, Red Sparrow is more in line with the methodically slow paced and superior spy feature Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from 2011. The difference is, the latter had a worthwhile narrative and enough intrigue to go the distance of its lengthy runtime. Red Sparrow absolutely does not and continues Lawrence’s struggle to be taken seriously as a leading lady.
Ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is at the top of her game. Dancing in lead performances for the Bolshoi ballet, she’s living her dream. That is until an accident leaves her permanently unable to dance and getting replaced in the company – a company who is paying for her and her sick mothers accommodation and care. Her shady uncle Vanya steps in with an opportunity to work for the Russian Government.
With nowhere else to turn Dominika takes him up on the offer and is sent to ‘Sparrow School’, where she is trained to use her body as the ultimate weapon by seducing her targets to extract the required information.
Meanwhile C.I.A agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is on the trail of a Russian asset, codename Marble, and is sent to Budapest to make contact with them. The paths of Dominika and Nate will cross and set forth a series of events that compromise not only their lives but the entire security of both nations.
Lawrence seems woefully miscast here as she puts more effort into trying to nail the Russian accent than giving a convincing performance. As a result, most of her lines sound mumbled, removing any emotion from the words. She bares more than ever here too, getting completely nude with a spread-legged full frontal for good measure. What bothers me about it is the film is supposed to be about the art of seduction and the first hour or so dedicated to her time in the Sparrow School. All this seems to be for naught though as Lawrence simply whips off her clothes to get what she wants with minimal effort. She’s rather good at picking locks, however, so there’s some positive to take from her training.
My issues aren’t with the rest of the cast or their performances. Joel Edgerton fairs much better as CIA agent Nate Nash, a name so American his signature is a bald eagle. I’ve yet to see a performance from him that I didn’t enjoy, and his casting here is a godsend. He’s the saving grace of the movie and puts everyone else to shame.
Charlotte Rampling is also fun to watch as the villainous Sparrow School teacher Matron, but again her accent is all over the place. When Dominika first meets her, she’s coldly greeted by a thoroughly British woman. A few scenes later, Matron is trying her best to be Russian by rolling her R’s but cannot shake the blindingly obvious, upper-class tone. Still, her piercing eyes and stern nature are adequately menacing. Matthias Schoenaerts shoots a good slimy smirk as Dominika’s uncle Varga while Jeremy Irons pops up every once in a while to show the rest how it’s done.
Red Sparrow‘s plot is a mess. Flitting from attempted character development to trying to explain the convoluted espionage story, it fails to do both successfully. Dominika has a paddling pool deep personality and never achieves any level of likability while the “mole in the Government” plot hits all the spy movie cliches – a high volume of unmarked envelopes changing hands (with the recipient foolishly asking “What’s this?” seconds before opening), an unhealthy amount of smokers wearing high collared coats on street corners looking left and right, that sort of thing. It’s a relentlessly pessimistic picture too, with torture and rape an almost everyday occurrence for Domnika. Between this and last year’s mother!, Lawrence sure knows how to pick the downbeat movies: no wonder she’s decided to take a break from the industry.
As Red Sparrow limps towards the finish line, it does pick up a little around the two-hour mark. But it’s far too late to be classed as redemption, as by the time the big reveal rolls around I’d both given up caring and admittedly lost a bit of track on what the heck was going on.It’s a good job then that the twist reveal is as subtle as vultures on an animal carcass.
Overlong and underwhelming, Red Sparrow is another disappointing credit to Lawrence’s repertoire as a headline act. Its sluggish pacing is only made slightly more bearable by the fantastic Joel Edgerton and some beautiful shots of Europe, but Red Sparrow should have had its wings clipped long before it made it to the cameras.
Joel Edgerton's performance
Captures Russia's cold tone well
At 140 minutes, it's far too long
Lawrence's mumbling accent