Director Francis Lawrence reunites with his Hunger Games leading actress Jennifer Lawrence in this cinematic adaptation of Jason Matthews’ book, which is about former Prima Ballerina Dominika (Lawrence) who, after her career is derailed following a shocking accident, needs funds to take care of her ailing mother and so is compelled by her Russian Intelligence uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) to join the Sparrows, an elite group of operatives who use their superior looks and minds to seduce and manipulate their targets. Dominika is soon tasked with tracking down a Russian double agent, having to get close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) but considers the possibility of joining forces with the American agent when it becomes clear that her handlers will never let her go free.
The biggest problem with Red Sparrow is its story because, despite what the alluring trailers might suggest, it is just so long winded and very boring, gradually abandoning the potentially fascinating Sparrow concept, the idea of incredibly attractive super spies using physical and psychological manipulation on their targets, and instead letting the film become a tediously generic spy “thriller”, complete with covert operations, double crosses, government moles, a few McGuffin data disks and eventually some lazy and uneccesary twists in the tale. As well as the surprisingly dry storyline, it also appears to be cursed with a few plot holes (just why Dominika, a Prima Ballerina, is randomly selected to become a professional spy extraordinaire, presumably never having previously demonstrated any of the necessary skills is anyone’s guess) and in the end, the story of Red Sparrow is either nonsensical, derivative or just plain dull.
Another of the film’s shortcomings is in Francis Lawrence’s direction, which is uninspired and very rarely thrilling, enticing or exciting; he gradually loses control over proceedings as he lets it all backslide into tedium and mediocrity, burdening the film with an incredibly sluggish pace and giving the audiences very few instances of genuine, necessary drama. Lawrence also proves himself to be ill-equipped and unprepared in handling the sex-infused scenes as, with the exception of an admittedly enticing early scene at a hotel, the film clearly isn’t as sensual or as erotically charged as the marketing might suggest and moments of this nature within the film are either bland, exploitative, or just plain ridiculous – perhaps most noticeably in a particularly eye-roll incuding sex scene between the two lead characters. Ultimately, Lawrence tries to be Paul Verhoeven but ends up being more Fifty Shades. No, not even that!
One thing the film does do effectively though is its scenes of violence – there’s a couple of nasty scenes right at the beginning as well as a fair helping of unsettling brutality in the interrogation segments found towards the end and in these moments, the film manages to be bold with its violence and it’s one thing that Francis Lawrence handles well as director.
In the central role of Dominika, the “Red Sparrow”, Jennifer Lawrence is perfectly likable and it’s easy enough to support her as she goes along but it’s not exactly her finest hour as Dominika is not a particularly interesting or exceptional character (she’s actually a pretty ineffective spy) and her cod Russian accent is dodgy and it slips from time to time – at the end of the day, this is a role where we see Jennifer Lawrence acting, rather than watching a fully formed character. And alongside her, the usually excellent Joel Edgerton is alright but he’s wasted in the thankless, generic role of the “handsome American” agent, a part with little to no depth (though his character apparently enjoys his pornography, which is how the Russians were able to track him – WTF?). Lawrence and Edgerton do quite well in their respective roles but there’s not nearly enough chemistry between the two of them and their forced romance subplot goes absolutely nowhere – it also undermines the strength of Lawrence’s character.
As for the others, no one else really makes an impact and some, like Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling, are miscast and appear visibly out of place, practicing all kinds of inconsistent accents. It was nice to see Black Mirror‘s Douglas Hodge on the big screen, though!
Lastly, the music of Red Sparrow is provided by James Newton Howard but surprisingly, his score is overbearing and intrusive, trying hard to be that kind of classic spy theme that would fit in a thriller like this but sadly, it disappoints.