Review: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow is the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller based on the 2013 novel by Jason Matthews. It’s not a spy vs. spy thriller or the “Black Widow movie Marvel Studios hasn’t made yet”. It’s an espionage movie that’s more of a cat-and-mouse game between America and Russian than a Le Femme Nikita remake.

Lawrence plays Dominika, a Russian ballet dancer who is recruited by her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) to be a “Sparrow” – Sparrows are a group of Russian men and women who use sex and seduction to get meaningful information. Before Dominika can finish her training, she’s asked to get information from an American spy named Nate (Joel Edgerton). He has the name of a mole within the Russian government and its Dominika’s job to get close to Nate and obtain the name.

Red Sparrow is packed with twist, turns, and swerves that lead towards the big finale – there’s good and bad that comes with structuring a film this way.

The Good – it makes for an interesting ending and a few “Ah ha!” moments at the end. A lot of spy movies are chasing that scene in The Usual Suspects when Kujan drops the cup and all dots in Verbal’s story start to connect. If pulled off successfully, audiences will leave on a high note. This trick is difficult to pull off, yet Red Sparrow manages to provide some of that movie magic.

The Bad – It makes the lead character, Dominika, feel wooden and one dimensional. Watching the story unfold in real time, a lot of her motivations don’t make sense. The story doesn’t tell audiences much about Dominika and purposefully keeps her at a distance. It’s odd following a lead character that never feels totally invested in what’s happening around them. That’s no fault of Jennifer Lawrence who gives a solid performance. The plot holds up a veil in front of her character for 95% of the movie as to not tip off the ending.

The story isn’t very action packed; the action that is shown is incredibly violent. Director Francis Lawrence uses every inch of the R rating to depict the violent world Dominika has been thrust into. There are 4-5 brutal cringe worthy scenes that are hard to look at. The violence is never glorified or celebrated, but the in-your-face nature will make some audiences uncomfortable.

Joel Edgerton brings his charm and charisma to the film as Nate. Edgerton gives another strong performance and reminds everyone he has the star power to be a leading man. Edgerton and Lawrence have really good chemistry; hopefully they’re onscreen together again soon.

Francis Lawrence does a fantastic job capturing the ugly side of espionage. It’s not always tuxedos and casinos, sometimes it’s ugly hotel rooms, assaults, and sacrifices you hope people don’t have to make.

Red Sparrow is an espionage film that’s uneven at times but somehow delivers a solid story. It runs a little long, but that doesn’t take away from the ending that ties everything together. There are moments that are hard to watch and moments that are riveting as well. It’s a mixed bag that ultimately ends up being more good than bad.

Grade: B