If you’re looking for a riveting, suspense-building espionage film, “Red Sparrow” is not that. If you’re looking for a film with unnecessary ultra violence and gore with a disorganized plot, then look to “Red Sparrow.” “Red Sparrow” probably aimed to be something akin to the Bond films, but the ultimate presentation was more of a disappointing, melodramatic “ugly step-sister” to a legitimate spy movie.
When ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence, “Mother!”) suffers a career-crushing injury, she is forced to enlist in her sleazy, sycophantic uncle’s (Matthias Schoenaerts, “A Bigger Splash”) world of Russian intelligence in order to financially provide for her sick mother. She eventually sacrifices her body to the state, as she is sent to become a Sparrow in “whore school,” where the women become highly trained in sexual coercion and seduction. Dominika passes her training and is released to become close with a CIA member, Nate Mash (Joel Edgerton, “Bright”), but her situation becomes complicated upon contact.
Just when things start to potentially become a little more compelling when Dominika enters her Sparrow training, a training that is supposed to be taxing on the body and the mind, she is released. Being a Sparrow is supposed to be the most highly selective form of Russian intelligence, but there aren’t enough scenes to prove how strenuous the training is. We don’t believe it. The only exposition we have from this moment is Lawrence’s nude body, which, coupled with violence, is used too liberally and sloppily throughout the film. Violence can be effective and powerful when used deliberately in cinema, and when violent moments are intended to evoke suspense and drama. When used carefully, the result is more grounded and causes true fear. When violence is overused, like in “Red Sparrow,” the movie becomes about gore and tricks and loses any element of reality. It begins to devolve into a gimmick. And more importantly, it creates a truly unpleasant experience for the audience with no real redeeming moments. At times, it even seemed like the film had fully transformed into an SNL satire of a spy movie.
Besides the overuse of gore, Lawrence’s performance was not terrible, but it was not praiseworthy. The version of Lawrence we saw in “Silver Linings Playbook,” a performer with nuance and heart, has been absent in her recent films. This could partly be out of her control and attributed to types of roles she has been getting. But for now, we are wishing for a return to the old Lawrence. With “Red Sparrow”’s lackluster reception and especially “Mother!”’s box office flop, hopefully Lawrence’s next project will return her to a more prized reputation. But with her inconsistent and embarrassing Russian accent in “Red Sparrow” it is difficult to predict where the quality of her future projects is heading.
Dominika’s femme fatale persona proves to outsmart her male counterparts, and despite her power deriving from sex, she knows how to trick and beguile to rise to the top. “Red Sparrow” could have made a stronger commentary on female power, but instead, it was too tempted by showing silly violence and tricks that detracted from the core of the story. It also could have explored the detrimental effects of blindly following a rigid state that has no remorse for its citizens, nor did it expose the intricate and complicated nature of espionage. “Red Sparrow” had potential, maybe, with a stacked cast like that, but it fell short.