Red Sparrow could best be described as Atomic Blonde meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the Fincher version). It’s an unapologetic espionage thriller that trades in sex and violence, but has very little in the way of real action scenes. That said, the film has enough twists and turns to keep most viewers entertained from start to finish. Plus, the presence of Jennifer Lawrence alone helps distract from the fact that Red Sparrow isn’t quite the prestige Russian spy thriller it so desperately wants to be.
The film begins by introducing us to Dominika Egorova (Lawrence), a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, Russia. After sustaining a career ending injury and with no way of paying her rent, let alone her ailing mother’s (Joely Richardson) medical bills, Egorova is persuaded by her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) to join the ‘Sparrow School’, a program that trains young Russians spy to become master of seduction. It doesn’t take long for Dominika to realize that the only way to survive is to do anything and everything asked of her.
Soon after joining the ‘Sparrow School’, Dominika is tasked with locating and seducing CIA agent Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton), an operative who’s been communicating with a mole high-up in the Russian regime. As Dominika and Nash’s paths grow closer to one another, the plot begins to thicken, leading the film down a violent and seductive path of twists and turns.
As already mentioned, Lawrence is the key to Red Sparrow working at all and without her, the film might have been a Dead Sparrow (sorry, couldn’t resist). Her ability to transition from one persona to another so effortlessly allows the mystery and thrill of the story to remain interesting throughout. Not only that, her Russian accent is quite impressive; unfortunately, the rest of the cast didn’t get the memo (I’m lookin’ at you, Jeremy Irons). That’s not to say the supporting cast doesn’t pull their own weight, but no one quite measures up to Lawrence’s efforts here.
That being said, one cast member that comes close is Joel Edgerton, who turns in a surprisingly effective performance as Lawrence’s would-be mark. Edgerton’s Nash is calculating, yet warm, and provides an escape for Dominika that she’s been seeking since she was a child. The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is believable enough, but if you’re expecting a star-crossed lovers situation – you’re on the wrong train.
Thus far, director Francis Lawrence, of the Hunger Games trilogy and I Am Legend fame, has been a reliable, if unspectacular filmmaker and he maintains that consistency here. While it would have been nice if Red Sparrow’s twists were slightly less obvious in some cases, the story is enjoyable enough, the characters (particularly Lawrence and Edgerton’s) are compelling and the ending is surprisingly effective.
Nowadays, with attention spans ever decreasing, keeping an audience entertained for two-plus hours is tough, but much like Charlize Theron did for Atomic Blonde, Jennifer Lawrence brings a level of stardom that puts butts in theaters. Despite its shortcomings, Red Sparrow provides an escape from all the superhero and Netflix Originals. Sure, the twist could have been better, but if you’re a fan of espionage and mystery, Red Sparrow is worth checking out.