‘Red Sparrow’, interesting, but not remarkable


Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow (2018). Photo by Murray Close

Following the tradition of Cold War era spy thrillers, director Francis Lawrence works once again with Jennifer Lawrence in a sexual and smart new film: “Red Sparrow.” Although filled with polish and panache, this sexy spy film is nothing extraordinary until the surprising ending.

Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a former prima ballerina in a Russian ballet company who attends an elite spy school at the behest of her uncle, a powerful Russian diplomat. At Sparrow School, she learns that every person has a need and that it is the Sparrows’ job to discover that need and exploit it.

Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent portrayal of Dominika. She rarely speaks, leaving much of the storytelling in her actions. As “actions speak louder than words”, her actions belie her true mission instead of her words. Her chemistry with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is captivating. Ms. Lawrence is powerful and cunning in her most sexual role yet.

The supporting cast has other notable celebrities. Mary-Louise Parker shows up for a brief comedic cameo; her small stint in the film brightens the otherwise dour plot. Matthias Schoenaerts does a great job portraying Dominika’s scheming uncle and his portrayal of this truly evil man is chilling.

The production design spared no expense for this film. Bright reds and greens fill the screen and each set piece is more lavish and lustrous than the one before. It gives the illusion of a secret double world filled with deadly beauty and betrayals. Ms. Lawrence’s costumes are radiant, conveying her character’s sexual power and beauty.

Nevertheless, the film is saturated with grisly sexual content and violence. The Sparrows and their bodies are treated as government property and the bulk of their training is of a sexual nature. Francis Lawrence does not shy away from the violence of torture, causing many audience members to cover their eyes in disgust.

“Red Sparrow” seems like a good film idea, but the plot is very uneven. The beginning and ending are both fascinating, but the middle grinds to a halt. Stripped of the sex and violence, the middle of the film has nothing but exposition to show for itself.

The saving grace of “Red Sparrow” is its ending. Carefully laid clues fit together like an intricate puzzle as the audience and characters simultaneously realize the secret game of cat and mouse that has been set up the whole time. The ending is satisfying and nearly makes up for the plodding plot.

“Red Sparrow” seems to be confused about the story it is trying to tell. It’s a spy film with no action, a modern day setting with floppy disks, and a boring thriller with an unjustified 2-and-a-half hour run-time. Lawrence does a fine job playing a powerful Russian femme fatale, but this confused spy film is nothing remarkable.

Rating: 5/10

Still out in local theaters.