Red Sparrow Review: Brutal and Superficial

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Rating: 3.5 stars 

Gruesome yet elegant, Red Sparrow fails to live up to its thriller status.  Starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling, the quality of the film’s cast doesn’t compensate for its over-reliance on gore and sex. Red Sparrow made just $17 million at the box office in its opening weekend in March, coming a distant second to Black Panther.

Red Sparrow tells the story of Domenika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a Russian prima ballerina devoted to her ailing mother. Domenika’s life is torn apart when she suffers a career-ending leg injury and faces the prospect of losing her ballet-company-funded apartment. Her uncle Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) promises to financially support her and her mother, if she helps seduce a man wanted by the Russian Intelligence. Domenika is sent to a Russian Intelligence training camp where she is subjected to humiliating tasks and taught the art of seduction. Known as a sparrow, Domenika is transferred to Budapest where she is to gain American Intelligence officer Nathaniel Nash’s (Joel Edgerton) trust and reveal the identity of the mole.

Directed by Francis Lawrence, known for The Hunger Games trilogy and I Am Legend, the film relies on elongated scenes of brutality and violence to hold the viewer’s attention. Lawrence delivers an impeccable performance in Red Sparrow, compensating for the film’s lack of character substance. Her co-stars provide a strong performance despite their characters’ lack of depth. The convoluted plot is superficial, merely leaving the viewer confused rather than enthralled. As to how Nathaniel realises Domenika is a Russian spy by simply seeing her at the pool is beyond comprehension, leaving the audience looking to put the pieces together. Lawrence is to be commended on her believable Russian accent. The film is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews and does the novel a great injustice.

The film’s $69 million budget is evident in the impressively sophisticated sets and graceful costumes. At 140 minutes long the film is drawn-out, leaving the audience looking forward to the ending as there are several scenes that appear to indicate an end, only to morph into an excess scene of brutality. Red Sparrow’s ending is satisfying merely because good reigns over evil but it significantly lacks the tumultuous plot twists commonly associated with a spy film.  Unfortunately, the film fails to captivate the audience’s attention in any meaningful way, leaving viewers ambivalent towards the film’s ending.

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