Red Sparrow review: Jennifer Lawrence can't salvage leaden Russian spy thriller

Cartoonish Russian characters and accents abound in self-serious spy film from Hunger Games director

Christopher Hooton
Friday 16 February 2018 15:44 GMT
(20th Century Fox)

With the Steele dossier and its salacious, urolagnic claims continuing to hang over Donald Trump's presidency, the timing is perfect for a thriller about a honeypot Russian spy to engross audiences, but Red Sparrow is not it.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who stumbles into a job as a Russian intelligence officer after a career-ending injury. Indebted to an uncle with powerful political ties, she is given little choice but to be trained as a "sparrow", an operative whose M.O. is seducing a target by any means possible.

I wonder if Lawrence felt similarly indebted to her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence to make this movie, which seems to exist for little purpose other than to show her naked in as many ways as contractually obligable, the result being a sort of Soviet fetish pin-up calendar. Dominika seduces in swimsuits, in ball gowns, in négligée. A whole section is spent in a sparrow training school, where a matron played by Charlotte Rampling instructs recruits to yield their bodies to Mother Russia and become stone cold fucking machines. One scene is so gratuitous it's almost funny, Lawrence lying naked and spread-eagled on an assembly desk, only her genitals obscured by a conveniently aligned elbow.

Red Sparrow - Trailer

Over on the American side of the narrative, Joel Edgerton is Nate Nash (seriously), a CIA agent wise to the wiles of Dominika but convinced she has the makings of a useful double agent. Cue the central thrust of Red Sparrow: double crossers double crossing while possibly being double-crossed. This is normally a fun set-up, but the action moves too slow and Edgerton and Lawrence's characters are so poorly developed that you're none the wiser as to possible ultimate motives, or even really able to keep track of whether she is quadruple or quintuple crossing him at any one point, let alone believe there is romance between them as you'll be astonished to find you're expected to.

A light and enjoyable thriller was probably on the cutting room floor here, but what ended up in theatres is a very long, straight-faced and weirdly morbid drama, that tries to make up for itself with some pretty extreme and nauseating violence. Matthias Schoenarts puts in a strong performance as Dominika's uncle, but there are too many Brits on the cast giving it their best "YIS COMRADE" accent, and even though they are talents like Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds, you wind up yearning for an actual Russian actor.

Red Sparrow manages to hold your interest thanks to its twists and turns, but ultimately feels like the result of giving a fembot from Austin Powers a gritty spin-off.

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