Red Sparrow is based on the novel of the same name and it follows the story of a Russian spy named Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) as she undergoes special training to become a “red sparrow” and the conflict she is faced with when she meets an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton).
In order for Red Sparrow to separate itself from recent Spy Thrillers such as Atomic Blonde (2017), it needed to excel in a range of areas, primarily story. Red Sparrow aimed its focus towards being a psychological thriller with heavy elements of seduction, espionage, and misdirection. The term femme fatale has been around for what feels like eons and that’s clearly what is being attempted here. The concept of a seductress type spy film isn’t fundamentally new as this type of approach to the spy genre has been seen before. The film differentiates itself by mixing in graphic violence and explicit sex scenes, these heavy scenes succeed in alleviating some of the inactivity the film suffers from and provides some shock value and heart-racing moments to energize the pace.
However, one could argue that this film uses the graphic imagery as a way to distract from its lacking plot and dull characters, incidentally the same way in which the lead character uses her manipulative skills to distract and mislead. Red Sparrow flaps its wings in order to attract the attention of moviegoers with a weaker stomach; to a keener eye the story itself feels like not much more than a typical spy thriller dressed in a Russian setting. Whether it was the basis of the plot, the lead characters, or the pacing, none of these elements were bad in a traditional sense; they simply weren’t notable.
Jennifer Lawrence leads in this role playing a fairly uncharismatic and emotionally barren character, meaning we as the audience get very little range out of her aside from when she is in extremely tense scenarios. She does a fair performance when scenes are getting heavy handed but as the film progresses you see little development of the character and concurrently see little derivation in her acting either. While Joel Edgerton is an essential character in this film his overall importance as a character means little in the grand scheme of things, his performance works its function and doesn’t go far beyond that, he simply didn’t matter enough in the story.
One of the more picky issues I had with performances were based on the fact that the film was in a Russian setting with Americans actors left, right, and center. Most of the actors involved in this film had heavily broken accents and some were patently bad, such as Jeremy Irons. Even Jennifer Lawrence was guilty of letting her American accent slip through on multiple occasions, ultimately making the experience feel painfully Americanised, not once did it truly feel set in Russia. A silver lining is met with actor Matthias Schoenaerts who plays the role of the uncle of the lead character; he feels like the only legitimately authentic character to match the setting and one of the few actors that didn’t overdo their respective roles.
Ultimately this film’s strongest asset is its visuals and while they certainly aren’t going to be winning awards any time soon they do a good enough job at setting the style, a dark cold Russia. While the camera-work, lighting, and production design manage to stay at a level above average, the soundtrack manages to pull out some interesting pieces that work with the film. The makeup utilized in this film was impressive, specifically when there are more violent moments, the creators weren’t afraid of delving into brutal detail, from the slashed wounds to the pummeled faces, the makeup stands out as an example of excellence.
Red Sparrow has some light twists and graphic content that may shock the light-hearted, unfortunately this was simply not enough to add towards the story in a meaningful way, making the payoff feel minimal for the amount of runtime the average viewer invests into the film. This film isn’t bad, it’s just painfully unexceptional. Ultimately the sluggish pace makes the runtime of Red Sparrow feel like a painfully long 140 minutes. With all the intentions to be dark, gritty, and controversial; Red Sparrow falls short, tragically suffering from a broken wing and unable to navigate itself towards a truly intriguing plot.