Review: ‘Red Sparrow’ won’t be soaring on its laurels Special

Posted Mar 3, 2018 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Red Sparrow’ is a fascinating spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as a reluctant but savvy secret agent, which unfortunately lingers in the minutiae a little too frequently.
Jennifer Lawrence stars in  Red Sparrow
Jennifer Lawrence stars in 'Red Sparrow'
Twentieth Century Fox
The Cold War was widely thought to have ended in the early ‘90s, but as recent events have shown the rivalry between the United States and Russia is still very much alive. Thus, a story about Soviet spies, espionage training camps and double agents is not as irrelevant as it may seem. Moreover, audiences’ attraction to spy pictures has not waned as evidenced by the continued success of the James Bond franchise and the more recent arrival, Atomic Blonde. But how does a slow-burning, female-led mystery fit into this landscape? Red Sparrow is about to find out.
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a prima ballerina until an accident ends her career. With no other prospects and an ill mother, she can’t waste time choosing her next move. Therefore, when her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), a government agent, approaches her with a plan to seduce a former benefactor, refusing is only remotely an option. After completing her mission, Dominika is presented with another offer she can’t refuse: a spot to train as a “red sparrow,” a group of secret agents skilled in the art of seduction. Her ability to read people is a significant asset and before long Dominika is assigned the task of discovering the identity of a Russian informant via his contact, an American CIA agent name Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton).
The core of this story is a gripping spy thriller as Dominika is ostensibly forced to go to “whore school” and essentially prostitute herself for her country — or face the fatal consequences of refusal. But in addition to being unbelievably clever, she’s a survivor so she finds a volatile balance between conscription and autonomy in which she attempts to maintain some control over her fate. Dominika is both ruthless and compassionate, though she can choose which of these emotions govern her decisions when necessary. Her character is undeniably interesting… but that’s not always enough.
At more than two hours in length, it’s difficult to hide the cracks — the most obvious being it’s too long. In spite of being comprised of numerous interesting scenes, there are also a number of moments that feel unnecessarily drawn out. The narrative is always in forward motion, but it definitely feels like her journey could be tightened and thus become an even better espionage picture that holds audience’s attention rather than letting it drift throughout the movie (giving them the opportunity to contemplate the flaws before the lights even go up).
This film clearly draws Lawrence out of her comfort zone. The two areas of focus have been her nudity and Russian accent. The actress has described her nakedness as a chance for her to take back ownership of her body after nude cellphone photos were stolen and leaked in 2014. In this instance, she was in control of her exposure and she found it deservedly empowering. (She’s also been very vocal about people mislabelling her experience in a sexy promo poster for Red Sparrow). Lawrence’s accent, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Russian accents are admittedly difficult to master since they can easily sound campy or just wrong. Unfortunately, in spite of Lawrence’s obvious efforts, it never sounds quite right; moreover, she loses it during heated or rapider exchanges. Conversely, Edgerton has had some practice refining his American accent, delivering it convincingly here; Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds opt for somewhat subtler and therefore easier Soviet accents; and Charlotte Rampling isn’t required to do one at all.
There are some interesting twists, but the extended torture montage, lengthy missions and imperfect portrayal cause this movie to be just okay… though it had the potential to be better.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton and Matthias Schoenaerts