When you gather a cast that includes the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson and Joel Edgerton, the expectation is that something special will be the result. Well, not necessarily it seems because Red Sparrow is a dumb-headed, misogynistic, misguided mess of a movie that wants to be many things and ultimately fails in its attempt to be anything remotely interesting. The first red flag comes almost immediately when we are expected to accept the likes of Lawrence, Irons, Hinds, Schoenaerts and Richardson as Russians. I mean, who knew Russians no longer speak their native tongue? If the world of this movie is to be believed, accented English is now the first language of the Russian Federation. If the story is set in Russia, why can’t we have Russian actors in the various roles? Why, at the very least, can’t we have the performers speaking Russian in a bid to lend some credibility to proceedings? Perhaps this could be more easily overlooked if the rest of the film was something particularly inspired but, alas, that is not the case.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, Red Sparrow sells itself as a sophisticated spy thriller but ultimately emerges as a tawdry, tedious waste of the considerable talents of the cast at his disposal. In her fourth collaboration with her namesake director (who helmed three of the Hunger Games films), Jennifer Lawrence is the titular ‘sparrow’, a term used to describe women recruited to the Russian intelligence service for the purposes of using their bodies to manipulate targets and extract information. In other words, they are fucking for their Government. Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova is an acclaimed ballet dancer whose career ends suddenly and violently, leaving her at the mercy of a slimy uncle (Schoenaerts) who recognises her potential as a sparrow and lures her in with promises of an apartment and ongoing support for her ill mother (Richardson). She is ushered off to a remote training facility run by a typically malevolent matron (Rampling) to learn the requisite ‘skills’.
Dominika is subsequently despatched to Budapest in a bid to lure CIA operative Nate Nash (Edgerton) into revealing the identity of an informant within the upper echelons of Russian intelligence. Nash is alert to this ruse from the get-go and lures Dominika into working as a double agent, which apparently requires that she has sex with him as well. It isn’t long before suspicions mount amongst Dominika’s Russian comrades and she finds herself under intense scrutiny of the life-threatening kind. It is all a bit silly really and is yet another American film that revels in casting Russia as the bad guys, presenting the Russian intelligence hierarchy – which includes Irons and Hands – as buffoons, a collective characterisation achieved through a combination of dodgy dialogue and comical Russian accents. The sex scenes are almost laughable in their execution, with so much emphasis placed on protecting Lawrence’s modesty that any sense of eroticism, or the exploitation to which the character is subjected, is lost. Dominika’s seduction of Nash, for example, plays out more like a dodgy lap dance than a couple in the throes of intercourse. It is absolutely okay for any performer to opt out of roles requiring nudity or sex scenes, so this leaves me wondering why Lawrence would take on such a character if such requirements were going to prove problematic. Yes, Dominika is a sexist construct whose sole purpose is to titillate men, but such characters are hardly anything new to the misogynistic mecca that is Hollywood, but Lawrence had to be aware of this long before signing up. Needless to say though, there was no holding back on the violence because somebody being garrotted to death is, apparently, far more palatable than the merest glimpse of a penis or a vagina. Go figure.
Richardson has little to do other than look frail, pallid and pitiful and, whilst Parker is also grossly under-utilised, she does bring the only levity to proceedings as a drunken political staffer selling secrets to the enemy. Far from being an exciting espionage thriller, Red Sparrow moves at a sluggish pace and never generates much suspense across its excessive 140-minute running time. If a quality female-centric action piece is what you seek, your time would be better spent revisiting the likes of La Femme Nikita, the Millenium trilogy or even Joe Wright’s Saoirse Ronin-starring Hanna than wasting your time with this.