Upon first seeing Red Sparrow trailers, my expectations were indifferent. Something seemed flat. Jennifer Lawrence‘s Russian accent didn’t help either. However, hers wasn’t the worst to grace my ears. I wasn’t sure if I would see this one. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot. J-Law’s latest reconnects her with Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. Additionally, you may recognize his other works such as I Am Legend and Water for Elephants. The last name is pure coincidence. Although this spy thriller toes the line of discomfort, the actor-director chemistry is present. Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a famous Russian dancer. Her family aligns with the Russian government. Dominika’s uncle Ivan (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) is deputy director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR. When tragedy strikes Dominika in the form of injury, Ivan steps in with a business proposition — one she cannot refuse.
Due to her devastating leg injury, Dominika turns to her uncle for financial support. Since she is unable to dance, the ballet studio refuses to pay for her needs. Among those needs are her apartment and sickly mother who is recovering from some type of paralysis. Okay. So, this is where I had my first issues with the film. Dominika’s mother’s illness went un-diagnosed the entire movie. Despite being a minor detail, it would’ve been nice knowing why her legs didn’t work. Furthermore, Dominika’s post-injury movement was tacky. After three months, she walked with a cane, which is fine. However, when she came home to her mother on the bathroom floor, she dropped the cane like a hot potato. She ran over to her mom and lifted her to her feet. Does that sound fishy to you?
Because it looked fishy to me. Moving on, Ivan offers Dominika an opportunity to work as a government spy to pay for her mother’s care. A secret training program turns cadets into manipulative sexual agents, gaining intel on foreign government targets. Following many months of hyper-sexualized tasks, the cadets learn how to “establish trust” with their targets. “Establishing trust” is shorthand for controlled sexual submission. The only thing they seemed to learn in the Sparrow program was how to use sex as a weapon. As you can imagine, this got old rather quickly. Essentially, everyone except her mother wanted a piece of J-Law’s pie. Dominika receives sexual abuse multiple times in this movie. Here, sex is a sales gimmick that hollows an already typical plot. If you’re looking for a tasteful film experience, think twice before watching Red Sparrow.
Conversely, if you want to see Jennifer Lawrence in her most sultry role to date, give this one a try. I must admit, she looks fantastic in this film. Though this fact does not overshadow her excellent overall performance. J-Law is a pro’s pro. And, considering her nude leaks nearly four years ago, I applaud her perseverance. Still, Lawrence’s star power does little to reverse Red Sparrow‘s static pace. Francis Lawrence & Company attempt to build suspense from thin air. It’s all in the trailers, folks. Dominika keeps tabs on an American CIA spy who is contacting a mole within the SVR’s circle. Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton) gets the jump on Dominika, discovering she is undercover. The two eventually link up and conjure a plan to bring down the SVR from the inside out. J-Law double-crosses just about everyone in the film in predictable fashion.
This is your typical spy movie. However, the copious amounts of sex and rape included here feel quite superfluous. But it’s Russia, right? They’re ruthless. Might as well write them off as no-good rapists and inbreeders. Yes, you read that correctly. Dominika’s uncle wants to hump her too. Thankfully, she plays him in the end. It is disturbing nonetheless. This isn’t the first inbreeding implication in film, though. So, it’s not a big deal. I’m not defending the Russian government. Yet this film seemed to deliberately bash their nation. I digress, the use of sex in Red Sparrow has a gross, bait-like essence. It’s as if no one would watch it without promising Lawrence gets naked. I was going to see Tomb Raider over this film, but it wasn’t showing after I left work. I was in the mood for a theater visit.
This film wasn’t completely over-the-top. Justin Haythe’s script displayed solid back-and-forth between key characters. Despite occasional lulls, the dialogue here holds its own. Nevertheless, there are no truly signature moments. The same goes for Dominika’s character as a whole. Her arc resembles that of many past secret-agent leading ladies. Sparrows train to become intelligent doormat whores, which leads to non-engaging plot points. Haythe sets up Dominika’s sympathy well, though the payoff left me unsatisfied. No scene had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Outside of Lawrence, this acting ensemble gave mostly forgettable performances. Few characters exhibited compelling personas. Schoenaerts did a fine job, however. Also, he almost looks like Putin. So maybe that’s why I thought he fit into this film well. I expected more from Joel Edgerton. His mind appeared focused on other things.
I can’t fully blame him, though. J-Law was incredibly distracting. Notwithstanding, this film needed some spunk. A drab use of color made me conscious of every second of the 140-minute runtime. The most exciting parts were shocking or awkward sex scenes and an unexpected, yet still stale, death of a side character. Francis placed nudity front and center. Although this idea is nothing new in Hollywood, it makes for run-of-the-mill, gimmick-centric cinema. In a way, Red Sparrow could not function without a high libido. However, with no compelling story to back it, this film falls flat into mediocrity. This is a Red Box special at best. Though something tells me you already knew that. Seeing Red Sparrow isn’t my proudest moment as a moviegoer, but I don’t necessarily regret it either. It’s simply… Meh. For a heterosexual woman, Red Sparrow has next to nothing to offer.