Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ballerina who suffers an accident which ends her career, agrees to take on a sinister assignment from her uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), when the hospital treatment her mother receives comes under threat. After a successful mission, Dominika is forced to choose between death and becoming a sparrow, a special division of spy trained in seduction. Later, she is given the task of trailing a CIA agent called Nate (Joel Edgerton).
As promised by the movie tagline and very red advertising around the film, Red Sparrow is oriented much around the theme of seduction and viewers should be warned, it includes a few discomforting sex scenes, more than one of which involves rape. Its violent content, which isn’t limited to this scene, is disconcerting as well, but a film needs more than sex and violence to provide compelling viewing.
Red Sparrow’s exploration of seduction is one of its few interesting aspects but that doesn’t make up for how dull the film is in general. One quite explicit scene sees JLaw strip in front of her class upon her teacher’s request to give a fellow pupil ‘what he wants’. The sequence acts as a commentary on the photo hack incident which saw private naked photos of the actress shared across the internet. Here, she takes back authority, empowering herself through controlling her own naked image. The film also provides an interesting text in the current climate of debate around feminism and sex. Sparrows are taught to use sex to extract information but Lawrence’s character rarely sleeps with associates, only teasing its possibility to get what she wants. Red Sparrow therefore compellingly argues that women can utilise their sex appeal without it automatically giving men the right to sleep with them.
However, aside from this observation, which one readily admits may be giving the film more credit than it intended, the movie lacks a hook. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. It looks fine, the acting is fine, the pacing is fine, and the story is fine. Moreover, it stretches credibility and logic, even for a spy thriller, and there are numerous inaccuracies in relation to Russian culture (but that’s nothing new to Hollywood). On the bright side, it is not as convoluted as last year’s Charlize Theron starrer Atomic Blonde, which Red Sparrow drew comparisons with even back when its first trailer was released, but it also lacks the kick ass action of David Leitch’s film.
As for Jennifer Lawrence, her performance here recalls her iconic turn as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series (and it’s no coincidence that Red Sparrow’s director is Francis Lawrence, who helmed the actress in Catching Fire and the two Mockingjay instalments). She retains a similar sense of emotional distance that keeps you intrigued as to what she’s thinking and whose side is she really on. Compelling as ever, she still can’t make up for the mediocrity of the unimpressionable film.