By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Writer
In what could be called a modern-day derivative of good old Tom Clancy techno-thrillers — minus the techno part — that speaks to the current mood of distrust between the major superpowers, Red Sparrow helps showcase Jennifer Lawrence’s versatility in both linguistics and appearance, however at a slow and tedious 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film feels more like an unedited ABC movie of the week than it does a gripping, tense spy drama.
Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a promising ballerina whose career ends brutally after an on stage accident which breaks her leg. Left to care after her ill mother (Joely Richardson), the now-former dancer is recruited by her intelligence agency uncle in “seducing” a crooked politician into a compromising situation. When that plan goes South and the SRV has him killed before her very eyes, she is given a choice: die so to leave no witnesses or join a clandestine training program for “Sparrows”. Its purpose: to help form a squad of seductive spies trained in the art of deception, using sex and manipulation to help the State gets secrets from foreign agents.
Soon thereafter, Dominika is assigned to gain the trust of CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who is all too wise to Dominika’s mission, and seek to recruit her to the American side on his own. With both agents having something to lose (she her mother, he a trusted and reported high-ranking mole within the Russian apparatchik), the question becomes one of survival over trust, hoping to deceive their superiors, if not each other.
Oh, and lots of sex and torture in between.
Despite its best intentions, the film takes way too long to achieve its objectives, turning into a marathon endurance test of patience as the plot slowly reveals the training program to the audience, only to omit the important art of careful film editing in chopping out the extraneous parts in between.
While no time is wasted in establishing that the U.S. side wishes to protect its source while the SRV wishes to root out its traitor, the game of cat and mouse gets long in the tooth very quickly, resulting in a rotating scene of Lawrence shots in and out of airports, in what could easily have been a condensed thriller. Instead, we get a stylish film that’s pretty to look at, glamorous in its portrayal of its star as a glamorous seductress, but very little else.
Give credit to Joel Edgerton for putting himself out there as potential leading man, but Jack Ryan he is not. The chemistry between the leads is flat and forced, as is the dry performance of supporting players Matthias Schoenaerts (as Dominika’s uncle) and Charlotte Rampling (as the Sparrow program’s monotone teacher.)
Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds pop up as top level operatives within the Russian intelligence agency, but they too overplay the somber, stereotypical idea of evil Soviet remnants stuck in a modern spy game.
Jennifer Lawrence is fairly convincing with her accent and demeanor, but the script doesn’t give her a chance to do any more than make out with Edgerton, look worried or nauseous when threatened, or simply look glamorous when seducing her targets.