Jennifer Lawrence’s weapons of espionage and seduction defend a lukewarm ‘Red Sparrow’

American democracy is under siege from our old foe once again, putting the world in a sequel to the Cold War. If there was a movie that has come at the right time, it would be Red Sparrow. If only it was a better movie that I could talk about after it was over.

(This Review is Spoiler-Free)

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Jennifer Lawrence plays as Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina whose dancing career comes to a sudden, awful end. Being placed at a desperate crossroads to care for her and her ailing mother (Joely Richardson), Dominika’s high-ranking uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her a lifeline by requesting her services. After witnessing a professional assassination, she’s given a choice: die, or become a Sparrow. Taking the offer, Dominika is enrolled into “Sparrow School”, a top-secret government program that trains young operatives in not only spycraft, but how to use sexuality in any means necessary to get vital information from targets.

Upon graduation, Egorova’s first mission is to get very close to CIA agent, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and tease out the Russian mole he’s protecting.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. Red Sparrow works about half of the time. Once Nate Nash’s character becomes more involved after meeting Egorova, the movie feels like a throwback to spy thrillers of yesterday; cloak-and-dagger tactics and the double crosses stacking one on top of another. Unfortunately, the kinkier sides sort of weigh them down. Lawrence is magnetic on the screen with the ability to pull you in with a smirk or a glare. Before I saw the movie, I thought the sex-as-a-weapon would be empowering for Lawrence’s character. However, it is more exploitative. There are moments when she is incredibly vulnerable – either stripping nude or handling abuse – where a set dynamic is needed and that’s a credit to her and the director (more on that below). Her chemistry with Edgerton doesn’t translate to the screen as well as their characters in the novel (I’m still reading the book). And let’s not even go into that Russian accent.

The reunion of Francis Lawrence and Jennifer, previously working together on Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 and 2, indeed helped carry the film as their chemistry shined through. That trust helped get an audience into the theater, but even their chemistry couldn’t cover the notable issues in the script. Red Sparrow benefited greatly from actually filming in Eastern European locations, taking in the architecture to add a structure of legitimacy to the film.  What made the movie rough were the torture and blood scenes, making me feel incredibly uncomfortable in my seat. I won’t go into it here, but it makes you wonder if they were really necessary. The lack of chemistry between the main leads makes the film feel hollow and cold. It’s not the worst movie this month (it’s only just started), but the uneven plot structure weighs down solid performances in what should have been a heartbreaking character study of a film.

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