Red Sparrow review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Jennifer Lawrence certainly goes the extra mile for Red Sparrow, more than any role prior, at least when it comes to physicality. Here is a spy thriller where she is forced to strip naked, be raped by men, and tortured by being pulverized in the face. All of this happens more than once, to the point where this is almost an exploitation piece for how much nudity, rape, and violence she endures. And it very well may be exploitation considering the film says more about Lawrence’s ability to do a nude scene than anything about international politics and intrigue.
Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballet dancer that unfortunately finds herself being forced into the world of Russian espionage. Her leg damaged, she needs to find a means of supporting her ill mother. So her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her a job in spying and she is sent to training which seems to include seduction and lockpicking. But mostly seduction, to an absurd degree where part of her training is having sex with Russian soldiers. She fails the let-the-rough-Russian-rape-you-in-the-shower test but makes up for it in the in-class assignment of getting-naked-and-insulting-a-soldier’s-penis exam. This type of “training” goes on for such an agonizing amount of time one wonders if the script was stapled together with a Russian porno.
This deconstruction of character in the first act makes the second act of going on her mission and seeking safety and survival far less engaging. Dominika is tasked with traveling to Budapest to make get close to a CIA agent played by Joel Edgerton and out a Russian mole. Notice how bland that story sounds, dressed up as a Cold War thriller without any of the cold or thoughtful nature. It plays like an amateur Tom Clancy novel written by a horny teenage boy who liked to fast-forward to the naughty bits of films like The Comformist. Of course, Dominika will become sexually involved and find more meaningful sex in her mission but it comes off almost as standard as Russian spy procedure, as the movie cannot pass into the next twenty minutes unless there is a sex scene.
But the film never really reaches any of its heights for erotic or intense spy work. We never even see Lawrence come into her own as Dominika, a spy built more for taking punishment than doling it out. She never seems to have much of a personality, more caught up in her game of deception than questioning it deeper than she is in the picture. Edgerton is doing the best he can as a love interest but even he feels woefully underutilized in a film that requires both him and his character to keep things low. And despite some fine performances from Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds, both contribute so little that their lines sound as though they’re from other movies.
The theatrics of Red Sparrow may be enough to appease spy-lovers but it’s merely a tiny and burnt steak with a pound of ketchup caked to cover its dry nature. It’s a cold war thriller that ends up being too cold with its intrigue to ever be engaging, despite the film’s attempt to heat itself up with an extra dose of exploitation. And at 2½ hours of spy cliches and soulless sexuality, it’s a bit of a chore to slog through, even for one that comes touted with a naked Jennifer Lawrence. That may be enough for 14-year-old boys but the adults will find themselves as jaded to this farce as Dominika is to the trust of government.