Jennifer Lawrence teams up with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence once again with Red Sparrow. This spy thriller could rightfully be called The Somber Games. To put it in Red Bull terms, there are times when Sparrow could use some wings.
While Lawrence gives a solid performance, the film never quite strikes a satisfying balance between wanting to be a little trashy and wanting to take itself as stone faced seriously as every character who inhabits it.
Here we have Jenny from the Red Block – with the star playing Dominika. She’s a well-known Russian ballerina whose career is cut short in a freak injury. Unable to care for her ill mother (Joely Richardson) or make ends meet, her high-ranking government official uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her an ultimatum. Dominika is to become an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service and extract information from suspects by any means possible.
This brings her to an intensive training course called State School 4 or as she later coins it – Whore School. It’s an apt description as most of the methods taught by its headmaster (Charlotte Rampling) involve seduction. Her training soon puts her in close contact with CIA agent Nash (Joel Edgerton) as he knows the true identity of a Russian mole.
Based on a 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow follows the spy flick playbook of frequent double crosses and surprising character reveals. Unlike some recent entries in the well-worn genre, it’s bursts of violence are hardcore and it’s filled with sex. Dominika is tasked with always staying a step ahead of her mostly male coworkers and marks. That almost always involves their uncontrolled libido.
Director Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence deserve some credit for making this pretty interesting for the first hour or so. The pic is not short on style and watching Dominika first adapt to her new reality has some entertaining and unexpected pleasures at first.
After a while, however, Red Sparrow struggles as it devolves into more familiar torture scenes and unsurprising “surprises”. Unlike Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron (a much better genre experience), there’s hardly any sense of fun here. The Lawrence’s seem convinced that the dour happenings are enough to sustain a 140 running time. Not quite.
**1/2 (out of four)