Let’s get the elephant out of the room straight away: Red Sparrow is not a pseudo-Black Widow. Despite some undeniably shared DNA and a similar title, this is a different beast. But, marketed as a slick, sexy spy thriller, it ultimately seems slightly confused about whether it wants to embrace that description or rail against it.
Ostensibly, the film’s USP is Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika being trained to use her sexuality, both physically and mentally, to seduce information from a target – rather than the spy staples of weaponry, gadgetry and/or generally badassery. Her time at Sparrow School being taught/forced to weaponise her own body delves effectively into moral quandaries such as respect for yourself over devotion to your state. But the final act descends into more formulaic territory, with twist after twist and brutal fight scenes, and failing to deliver fully on a more interesting set-up.
Lawrence is, as usual, terrific – complete with a consistently held Russian accent. She treads the fine line between her character’s stoicism and vulnerability, as she struggles to gain control instead of being manipulated. Joel Edgerton makes for fine support, though his flawed CIA agent is less well drawn, while Matthias Schoenaerts brings a controlled menace as deputy director of the intelligence service – and Dominika’s uncle.
Director Francis Lawrence helms with solidity more than flair, but his greatest success here is presenting the sex and brief nudity as exploitation, not eroticism. There’s a clear trust and collaboration with his namesake and former Hunger Games star.
A capably executed spy flick, elevated by J-Law’s star power and fully committed performance, Red Sparrow nonetheless feels less than the sum of its parts. Genuinely unsettling to watch at times, absorbing in others, it ends up too much like many a thriller you’ve seen before.
CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons
DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence
WRITERS: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Jason Matthews (novel)
SYNOPSIS: When she suffers a career-ending injury, ballerina Dominika becomes the newest recruit for Sparrow School, a Russian secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their bodies and minds as weapons.