Sex and violence. Some directors dream of leveraging the two to tell their story without being hounded by producers hungry for an audience-friendly PG rating.
That said, it’s a surprise that Red Sparrow flaunts this ability will-nilly. The mainstream film pulls no punches in delivering the rawest sex and violence to tell its intelligent story. However, where it succeeds in exercising liberty, it lacks in delivering compelling empathy for its plot.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a former Russian ballerina sidelined by a career-ending accident on stage. Her life as a ballerina ends in anxiety for her ailing mother. Before she knows it, she ends up jobless with the threat of eviction.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for her, Dominika’s secret service uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) enlists her for the Sparrow program, a school that trains would-be spies to use their bodies to seduce targets for information.
Soon enough, Dominika is sent for real targets. In the spy world, she goes head to head with the US secret service, particularly Agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton).
As you might expect, sex is a prominent plot device in Red Sparrow. The story revolves around seduction and sexuality. Red Sparrow features a very mature performance by Jennifer Lawrence and her co-stars. There’s not much that they didn’t agree to.
In Red Sparrow, you’ll find sex scenes, full-frontal nudity, rape, torture, gore, and gruesome death. The worst part is that they’re all in vivid detail. To an extent, the film’s R-16 rating elevates the plot especially in portraying sex as a disturbing element in the Red Sparrow story.
However, there’s a clear point when this crosses body horror territory. There are a number of scenes that can upset and nauseate especially in today’s touchy political landscape. Sex as a plot device works, but only to a point. Red Sparrow’s more disturbing scenes end up distracting from the plot rather than contributing to its flow.
At their peak, these scenes transform into their own spectacles, pulling you away from the story haplessly.
Sadly, their liberty with sex and violence only hides an even deeper problem: there’s not much to care about Red Sparrow’s characters and plot.
Red Sparrow has a very complex political plot. It’s a Cold War-esque story filled with political intrigue and corruption. The film blatantly obscures which time period it takes place in. Despite feeling like a period piece, various context clues—like the odd smartphone and LED monitors—point that it could happen in the present day. Which ultimately create a stark contrast between what the film wants you to think and what it actually is. Instead of feeling like a true Cold War drama, it feels like a Cold War fantasy lived out by those who miss the spycraft of that era.
That doesn’t even begin to elaborate how meaningless the characters are. Jennifer Lawrence puts out an amazing performance. She coolly transitions from graceful ballerina to cold-hearted spy in the blink of an eye. Sadly, her character’s writing fails to smoothly plot how she grew into her role as a spy. One minute, she’s a star who cares for her ailing mother. The next, she’s 100 percent fine with manipulating targets for information. Her evolution just doesn’t seem believable.
Edgerton suffers the same fate. While he does enjoy a bit of a backstory, his character is just a plot device for Dominika to get from point A to B. The film attempts to establish a romantic subplot but fails to create a meaningful spark between the two.
In itself, Red Sparrow’s plot is intelligent. It prefers drama over action. Despite the slow burn, its massive plot twist pays off. Every step that the film took to establish its twist was a move in smooth storytelling. You’ll find much to enjoy in this airport-novel-turned-movie. Unfortunately, its lack of character empathy and over-the-top violence weigh down this political thriller into common Cold War schlock territory. Red Sparrow tries its hand at being the next femme fatale like Black Widow. It escapes being in the same terrible level as Lucy but hovers around Atomic Blonde levels of entertainment.
Red Sparrow is now showing in cinemas.