RED SPARROW re-unites Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence with her HUNGER GAMES director Francis Lawrence. The film is an espionage spy film written by Justin Haythe, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The novel won many literary awards including the Best First Novel prize for its author, Matthews. The film? If you remember the HUNGER GAMES franchise, then you would know what to expect for RED SPARROW, the movie.
The film begins impressively enough with the intercutting of a Bolshoi ballet performance by star Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) and an incident in Gorky Park where Nate (Joel Edgerton), a CIA internal-ops officer who recruits and handles intelligence assets for the agency is arrested. Dominika is injured during her performance (shot in an extremely gruesome ‘accident’ scene). In order to support her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) and maintain her apartment, she is forced by her uncle Ivan Dimitrevich (Matthias Schoenaerts) to undergo training at the Sparrow School, where she and other men and women were trained in how to seduce the enemy. In the words of the film’s best line, uttered by the uncle: “There are no accidents. We create our own fates.”
Matthews’ novel was praised for its insight into the mundane aspects of the intelligence field, various techniques and its “high drama”. The same cannot be said for Lawrence’s film. At best, it glamourizes the violence and techniques used by both the Russian and American sides. The best instance can be observed in the almost unwatchable torture scene when Nate has the outer skin of his back pealed off by a skin grafting device. Lawrence need not show the actual action but the audience gets the message from the Nate’s screaming and the scene’s set-up. Another more graphic torture scene is Dominika’s torture with her constantly hit with a melt rod..
The sex scene between Lawrence and Edgerton could have been shot with more credibility. It is laughable to see a riding scene in which the lovers perform their act fully clothed.
Unlike spy films such as TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ directed by Alfred Hitchcock, RED SPARROW is noticeable devoid of suspense. Plot twists replace suspense in this spy thriller. Critics attending the promo screening were requested not to real any plot points in their reviews. But running at 2 hours and 20 minutes (Lawrence’s HUNGER GAMES films were also unnecessarily lengthy), plot twists can also turn ordinary unlike suspense set-ups.
The best thing about RED SPARROW is Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts. With make up to look like Vladimir Putin, he is the most fun to watch. The second prized performance comes from Charlotte Rampling playing the school headmistress with totally cool lesbian charm.
RED SPARROW the film is more outrageously camp in its violence and portrayal of real world espionage. If one can take and believe Jennifer Lawrence playing a Russian ballerina and emotionless spy, then this film is for you. RED SPARROW is entertaining camp, but for those who expect a serious spy experience it would be wiser to read the book.