Red Sparrow movie review: Jennifer Lawrence's latest is neither cool spy thriller nor high brow drama
Red Sparrow comes off as a music video featuring classy and exotic things, but with no substance beneath the pretty visual palette
Despite a good performance from Jennifer Lawrence Red Sparrow is an oddly middle of the road movie — neither embracing the pulpy themes of a sexy spy story nor having the quality and the artistry of high brow spy dramas like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The results are a strange and uneven package of what should ideally be an entertaining romp but is something that is far too somber for its own good.
Lawrence plays a Russian woman named Dominika who after a personal tragedy ends up in a Kremlin-sponsored elite spy ring called the Sparrows — operatives who are trained to seduce their targets and ultimately extract information from them. After extensive training, she is handed an assignment to track down and ‘honeypot’ Nate (Edgerton), an American CIA operative who holds the key to the identity of a mysterious leaker codenamed Marble. Naturally the mission doesn’t go according to plan and Dominika finds herself at the crossroads of loyalty to her nation and the abuse it is putting her through.
The problem here is the tone — which seems mismatched at all times. For one, everyone in the film is speaking English in a Russian accent which gets jarring real fast, and fails to lend the atmospheric authenticity the film tries so desperately to achieve. Director Francis Lawrence clearly does not have the skill set of Spielberg who employed this technique successfully in Schindler’s List. Secondly, there is far too much drama and too little action in a film that promises to be full of tension. There are various buildups, promising you of something huge but the huge moments never arrive, and we’re instead given more feeble drama to deal with.
The second half of the film, when Dominika begins questioning the route that she’s taken in life has a few attempts of double agent twists but the punches just don’t land well enough. To compensate, the filmmakers exercise a heavy atmosphere of repression, torture and psychological manipulation which more or less becomes a showcase for Lawrence to look in various kinds of pain, but little else because emotionally it all rings hollow for those watching the film. But it’s the cliché of two spies from opposite factions falling in love that grates – this is a plot element that has well and truly been done to death, and Red Sparrow doesn’t offer any new insight on that front. Once that is established predictability becomes the overarching theme in the film, and even during the final twenty minutes of unmaskings and double crossings you’ll be wondering why this movie isn’t as exciting as you expect it to be.
Director Francis Lawrence burst onto the scene with interesting titles like Constantine and I am Legend a decade ago — it’s disappointing to see him tackle insipid stuff like the Hunger Games movies and now Red Sparrow. His music video work shows a little too much here, because that is basically what this movie is — a music video featuring classy and exotic things, but with no substance beneath the pretty visual palette. This does not bode well for Jennifer Lawrence as this becomes another big failure, and hopefully the year long break that she has proclaimed will give her the perspective to choose more interesting projects.
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