In this serious spy thriller, we follow Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a prima ballerina who finds herself manipulated into becoming a recruit for Sparrow School after she suffers a career-ending injury. After enduring the intense training of the secret intelligence service, she is set to extract information from CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton) to uncover a traitor within their ranks.
In a movie that claims “Every human being is a puzzle of need. You must become the missing piece,” the sum of the movie is much less complex, and mostly amounts to Dominika getting “sent to whore school.” We see the candidates trained to understand the inner workings of Americans, and decipher their personalities to uncover their desires in order to gather information, but rather than this evolving into a psychological thriller, it becomes clear than this is a game of “guess the sexual fantasy.”
For many American audiences, the thought of a spy thriller brings visions of elaborate ruses, intense fight scenes with high stakes, shootouts with the enemy to make narrow escapes, and more than a few explosions, and “Red Sparrow” is lacking in almost all of those. What we do get, however is a film that does deliver on the elaborate ruse, but is mostly pushed along with a combination of sexually intense scenarios and graphic violence that looks real — man, does it look realistic — but isn’t the choreographed blow-for-blow throwdowns that audiences are accustomed to.
In the film, we see a very different type of spy. This spy isn’t trained to kill with any gun laying around, or taught how to make an improvised explosive device. These are the spies we rarely hear about and hardly ever see — the spies trained to gather information by manipulating their target. This isn’t a far reach from reality either, as many celebrities had fallen down similar paths. Greta Garbo is a prime example, having been a hit in Hollywood before being recruited to become a British spy during World War II — though I hope it’s safe to say her training was different than what we see in “Red Sparrow.”
The acting is solid across the board, with each character bringing the Russian stoicism that we’re familiar with. Lawrence delivers an almost stellar performance, with dedication to her role, but the Russian accent comes and goes. Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeremy Irons put forth their usual amazing efforts and Joel Edgerton manages to keep things engaging despite having such little to work with for his character.
By the end of the film, things have moved fairly slow with bumps of action along the way, leading up to a payoff that just doesn’t make it worth the wait. Despite the appreciation of seeing Lawrence in a much more arousing role, the movie just doesn’t accomplish its mission. I won’t put a bullet through the film, but this likely would have done better as HBO’s response to the success of FX’s “The Americans.”
2 out of 5
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set including writing, design, and photography. Nick now resides in Austin, TX after earning a degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis on journalism from Texas A&M University—Commerce.