Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons
Rated R / Runtime: 2hrs and 20mins
Many people have been calling Red Sparrow essentially the more adult version of the Marvel comic character Black Widow. However, while there are some similarities, this movie is most definitely its own thing.
Jennifer Lawrence plays a talented Russian ballerina named Dominika Egorova who takes care of her sick mother. However, Dominika’s career is quickly cut short by an injury, and is desperate to find an alternative means to continue to afford her mother’s care.
Dominika’s uncle Ivan, a high-ranking official in Russian Intelligence (Matthias Schoenaerts) approaches her with what has to be the most bizarre offer of assistance from a family member ever. If she will agree to seduce an enemy of the state and switch his phone out for a government provided duplicate, Ivan promises to ensure the medical care for her mom will continue.
She reluctantly agrees, however the State’s real plans are revealed when during the encounter the man is brutally murdered while forcing himself onto Dominika. To eliminate any witnesses, she is soon given a choice by her uncle: death or agree to become a Sparrow. Great family.
Sparrows are government spies that agree, or more often forced, to commit their entire bodies to the State. Their main assignments are usually not to assassinate targets, but rather seduce and sleep with them in order to extract information.
They are trained in multiple areas of espionage including psychological manipulation, infiltration, and weapons training. Her first assignment is an America CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who knows the identity of a mole in the Russian government.
First and foremost, this movie has a very hard R rating. Not only are there numerous scenes of graphic nudity, but there are some brutally violent scenes; both physically and emotionally. Many critics are even condemning this movie for the light in which Lawrence’s character and others are portrayed.
That being said, while many parts of the movie are graphic and even shocking, it feels like an accurate depiction of what the life of a “Sparrow” would be like. Movies give us the incredible ability to see and examine life from different points of view, even if those viewpoints are sometimes disturbing. The film definitely fails to have any message or deeper meaning, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle either. It merely puts it on display and viewers are able to think what they want.
In a bizarre way it was humourous that despite all the brutality of the film, the characters seem able to survive the most extreme of beatings. More than once Lawrence beat the shit out of someone and I was convinced, based on what I have seen in any other movie ever, ” yup, they’re dead.” Only in the next scene to discover; nope, they’re fine, only injured.
The story itself is a very slow burn and only has a few mins of action. Most of the 144 mins are focused on Lawrence interacting with other characters and us trying to figure out which side she’s really on. Honestly, the movie is about 30 mins too long and needs to be cut down. After the first hour and a half, you really start to feel how long many scenes seem to drag on.
There is a satisfying ending that gives a nice “ah-ha” moment. However, especially with the longer runtime, once you know the ending, there’s not enough depth to the story to warrant more than one viewing.
Whether or not you enjoy this movie, Jennifer Lawrence is hands down the best thing about it. Her Russian accent is on point, and she gives an incredibly complex performance which draws you into the character’s story.
This was a bold choice for her, and though it may not be the greatest movie, it is one of her best performances so far. As a side note, she’s worked with director Francis Lawrence (no relation) before; last time on the Hunger Games trilogy.
Everyone else gives the performances they need to for the movie, however nothing you’ll remember a day or two after watching the film.
Red Sparrow is a visceral adult spy thriller that is worth watching for J.Law’s stellar performance. However the shallow story combined with its long runtime and slow pacing make for a “one and done” viewing scenario.
See it in the theater if you’re a Jennifer Lawerence fan, otherwise I would wait for Redbox or Netflix.
Final score for Red Sparrow:
6 Soviet sex spies out of 10