Red Sparrow, 2018.
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Joely Richardson, Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons.
After a career-ending injury, a budding prima ballerina finds herself unable to pay for her mother’s life saving medical treatment. Her uncle, a high-ranking government official, recruits her to Russian intelligence as a Sparrow, using charm and manipulation to extract information. After her training, her first job is to seduce a CIA agent, who knows the identity of a highly placed mole in the Russian government.
It’s cold. The Beast From The East has swept into the UK and, along with it, comes Francis Lawrence’s spy adventure, Red Sparrow. A cold-blooded film with ice running through its veins, but with a red hot turn from Jennifer Lawrence that takes her well outside her comfort zone.
She’s Dominika, a dancer at the Bolshoi with more than enough talent to reach the top, until an accident puts an end to her dreams and her income. She’s no money to support herself or her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) until her uncle and high-ranking government official Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) comes up with a solution. She’s sent off to train to be a Sparrow, one of an elite squad of young adults skilled in using their bodies as weapons to glean information from foreign operatives and any other targets in their sights. And she soon finds herself on the radar of CIA agent Nash (Joel Edgerton): she sees him as a target, but in her he sees a potential ally.
That Sparrow training means she learns what her victim wants and gives it to them – and if that means getting close to a man she finds utterly repugnant, so be it. The same applies to stripping off in front of a classroom of fellow trainees. It just goes with the territory, but it does make for something of an uncomfortable spectacle, one that gives the audience a touch too much of J-Law either in the shower, in the buff or in her invariably black lingerie. Little room for genuine feelings, then, as this is a brutal film about the dark world that Dominika is forced to live in, one that seems to be her prison. Unless, of course, she’s smart enough to double cross those around her and get out of it.
Any relationships in the film are purely sexual and little more and, although there’s supposed to be more than a spark between Lawrence and Edgerton’s agent, it just isn’t there. There’s little in the way of chemistry, but that’s partly because of the demands of her character and she’s really good in the role. It’s a classic example of a star turn, almost in an old-fashioned Hollywood way, impressively mature considering her breakthrough role was just eight years ago in Winter’s Bone. That impassive face, says much more than you would expect and her physical agonies mean you buy into her character even more.
That Red Sparrow is bloody and violent isn’t too much of an issue, but its length certainly is. It just doesn’t need 2 hours 20 minutes to tell its story, which means the plot is padded out with unnecessary dialogue. Lawrence aside, the classy cast is put to reasonably good use, although Edgerton isn’t exactly stretched as her love interest. Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling could play their parts happily in their sleep with one hand tied behind their back, which leaves it to Schoenaerts to provide any complexity as the smooth party man who takes more an interest in his niece than is perhaps healthy. Except you can never escape his startling resemblance to Putin!
For Jennifer Lawrence fans, this reinforces her transition from the likes of The Hunger Games to more adult fare. As a spy thriller, it’s not always an easy watch, it’s far too long but it looks good and delivers a powerful central performance. Despite what this sparrow was trained to do, the result is more of a curate’s egg.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.