Red Sparrow is a continuation of the Cold War efforts from a Russian perspective. The “Sparrows” are mostly young, ex-military operatives who are brought into a new training regime in order to utilise their looks and train them in psycho-sexual techniques to infiltrate and extract information as required. Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is given the chance to become a Sparrow, after her ballet career is cruelly ended, by her ever-so-generous uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts).
This is without any doubt a J-Law film. From her being moulded into a Russian secret agent/spy after being a successful ballerina in the Bolshoi, being broken down, sculpted into a Sparrow you’d think that this film had something of interest. However the moments of action/violence are sporadic and short-lived, tension is almost completely absent and, with almost everyone on screen being a secret agent, there is a distinct lack on emotion being portrayed on the screen as it is all being too carefully controlled for fear of detection and failure.
To give it its dues this is an interesting story to begin with and the start of this film, the setting up, is interesting and captivating. Watching as Dominika’s dream is cruelly taken away and then replaced with something else that she didn’t really have a choice about is brutal and demoralising but also compelling to watch. From then on there is much effort at subterfuge and misdirection, double-crossing and not knowing who is being played and who is doing the playing. But even with this going on, the tension and the stakes never really peaked, never reached a level that raised the pulse rate or made me care about the characters or what was happening. In an attempt to be controversial, to provoke some kind of reaction, this film tries too hard and over-thinks what it is trying to accomplish but ultimately fails. The torture scenes are hard hitting but aren’t explored in enough detail, giving it a lesser weight in the storyline; the nudity and sexual scenes are, bar the opening effort, fairly bland and not what would be expected from a Sparrow trained in the arts of sexual manipulation and psychology, their main purpose.
Joel Edgerton is pretty blank but does alright with what he has got, Jeremy Irons does ok, Charlotte Rampling is a bit iffy as the instructor of Sparrow School, Ciaran Hinds again does alright with what little he has to do. Matthias Schoenaerts is probably the next best thing in this film after Lawrence as the creepy, manipulative Uncle. But this film is all about J-Law and Jo-Edge and unfortunately there wasn’t any chemistry between them, again maybe because of the spy element, making you wonder if it is all a game and not real, or maybe because there really wasn’t anything between them. Oh, and the Russian-accented English from all involved was hit and miss throughout.
Red Sparrow is directed by Francis Lawrence who has previously worked with the his namesake Jennifer in 3 of the 4 Hunger Games films (and is the main reason that she took on this role apparently), I Am Legend (a terrible bastardisation of the novel) and Constantine (for me, a decent effort at bringing a comic book to the big screen). He starts off well but this film slips away into classic spy drama/thriller after promising a different view of it all which is a shame. Written by Justin Haythe, adapted from Jason Matthews‘ book of the same name, it meanders around for too long and tries too hard to provoke a reaction using nudity and violence as it’s weapons. Wandering around Waterstones last week I noticed that this was actually an adaptation of a book and I can see that it would go down well in that format, but when translated into film, this film, it didn’t really work for me.