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Red Sparrow – Movie Review

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Red Sparrow – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

When one thinks of a spy film, the immediate thought is usually James Bond shooting up evil villains attempting to take over the world. Red Sparrow is not that kind of espionage flick as director Francis Lawrence opts for showing a certain mood and the less savory parts of the job. The film’s tone is established early on and the squeamishness never lets go, which will certainly turn off many viewers. While Red Sparrow definitely gets a little too gratuitous at points, the twists and turns of the story keep it compelling. Jennifer Lawrence continues to show why she is one of today’s best young actresses, willing to make these arty projects in between her contractually obligated franchises.

Jennifer Lawrence has the tricky task of playing a rather stoic character who is forced to keep her emotions hidden on the job. Dominika’s arc from celebrated ballerina to Russian spy is believable and a lot of that is due to Jennifer Lawrence. She also deserves commending for her accent, which remains far more consistent than her co-stars’. There are many scenes that are utterly sickening to watch and her director certainly overdoes it. It’s almost comparable to Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch films and a few of his Hollywood productions, too, in how nude scenes are meant to be conveyed. The audience is supposed to be uncomfortable, especially during the sequences of sexual assault. Red Sparrow highlights the poor treatment of these spies, but these scenes exist to shock the audience and they certainly succeed.

The best sequences in Red Sparrow come when Dominika gets started on her assigned mission. The deliberate pace works in the film’s favour, as one starts to be focused on the details. Dominika’s alliances are never clear and that makes Red Sparrow even more intriguing and surprising. Francis Lawrence takes full advantage of his locations as Dominika hops from country to country. Hungarian viewers will probably get a laugh out of Budapest filling in for Moscow, but when Budapest plays itself, the city is put to good use. Jo Willems’s photography plays a key role in illuminating the various sections of the cities Dominika finds herself in.

Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent isn’t nearly as interesting, but he primarily exists to serve as a potential friend or foe for Dominika. Their interplay further makes the mind wonder about her motivations and plans. A sequence in a London hotel is a solidly tense bit of directing on Francis Lawrence’s part as the clock is ticking and there’s an uncertainty over how each character will play into the circumstances. While a number of scenes have slight pacing issues, he does manage to earn the almost two and a half hour runtime, especially in the last act. While Justin Haythe’s screenplay, adapting retired CIA officer Jason Matthews’s novel, may not have the crackling dialogue one might hope for in a spy film, the clever story turns more than make up for that.

Red Sparrow will absolutely not be to everyone’s tastes. It is shocking and gratuitous in both the sexual content and the violence. This is an unglamorous depiction of that life style and while Francis Lawrence takes it too far in certain scenes, this proves to be a solid Euro-centric spy film one can imagine watching in a seedy Dutch cinema in the 1980s and then later on a grimy VHS cassette. Yet it’s ultimately the story as a whole and the directions it takes that captivate. It seems that whenever Jennifer Lawrence signs onto a project, it won’t be the sort of film one would expect a star of her type to appear in. She is talking bold risks and using her name to get these sorts of movies greenlit at major studios. That a major studio would back and support Red Sparrow is quite astonishing.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison