Hardly a prima ballerina, Jennifer Lawrence stumbles through scenes of hideous sexual violence20TH CENTURY FOX

Jennifer Lawrence, following on from the brilliantly mad and deeply compelling mother!, plays a ballerina-turned-spy in the similarly provocative, if rather less successful Red Sparrow. Her character is Dominika Egorova, a Bolshoi star at the height of her fame ingloriously knocked from the top-spot by an onstage injury. Seeking to protect her sickly mother, Egorova agrees, at her uncle’s request to become a ‘sparrow’.

Taught to manipulate targets and uncover information through seduction, the group of spies are sculpted by a camply austere Charlotte Rampling into manufactured, unfeeling machines of espionage. Lawrence is sent to “establish trust” with Joel Edgerton’s Nate Nash, an American CIA operative, and a bizarre, contrived, and often confusing thriller ensues.

“Her Russian accent is not as terrible as the butchery of Jeremy Irons”

The film is unblinkingly graphic in its depictions of sex and violence. Never shying from the extreme in the scenes of rape and torture, the action is nasty and uncomfortable to watch. Such stomach-churning brutality, in the service of a thrilling, purposeful narrative can be very successful.

Red Sparrow certainly shocks, but to what end? The central plot, supposedly about a mole in the Russian secret service, is unfocused. Lawrence and Edgerton’s relationship lacks the spark of genuine emotion that was clearly meant to mediate the film’s more shocking moments. Though tension is held throughout, no mean feat for a 140-minute film, the anticlimactic, perplexing conclusion fails to provide the resolution that the previous two hours of build-up had been ostensibly leading towards.

Trailer for Red SparrowYOUTUBE
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Yet the narrative failures are secondary to the major problem with the film: tone. The portrayals of sex, for example, attempt only to show exploitation in a raw and brutal form, but the ‘drooling’ manner of presentation makes it somewhat complicit in the degradation. Much has been made of Lawrence’s suggestion that the film is “empowering”, but the result is much more morally-ambiguous. Lawrence and Edgerton’s sex does not feel sensual or affectionate as the story suggests it should, but instead just as cold and removed as previous scenes.


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The pacing of the revelations and the lingering queasiness of the extreme violence is tiring, not exciting, every missed opportunity and slight misjudgement of mood more frustrating than the last. Ineffectual storytelling means that the only real scenes of power are the violent ones, leaving one with all the unpleasantness and little of the intrigue that the film shoots for.

Despite its flaws, the essential premise of Red Sparrow is a sound one, and it is a fine film in some respects. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent and maintains a watchable sphinx-like mask of calm that conceals a damaged core. Even her Russian accent is not as terrible as the butchery of Jeremy Irons and his fellow British co-stars. But the performance is subsumed by the more patent failure of the film to develop a coherent and emotionally resonant narrative; the potential is there, but the execution is not