Fresh from being well and truly put through the wringer by Darren Aronofsky in his masterpiece/flop (depending on whose side of the argument you stand) Mother!, Jennifer Lawrence is back in a brand new espionage action thriller which asks as much of its main protagonist as it does of its audience. Adapted to the screen by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games, I Am Legend) from Jason Matthews’ 2013 novel of the same name, Red Sparrow tells the story of a prima ballerina turned spy, and offers a problematic narrative centring around a needlessly sadistic storyline, which while being deeply engaging, still manages to leave you with a bad taste in the mouth.
After suffering a career-ending injury on stage, Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) a highly talented Bolshoi Ballet dancer is roped in by her duplicitous state official uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) to act as a honey-trap for a political rival. After witnessing something she shouldn’t have, Dominika has no other choice but to join Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service which trains its students into the art of seduction and teaches them to use their minds and bodies as weapons. As a result, Dominika is swiftly recruited by army officer Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) and is sent to Budapest as bait for CIA operative Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton) in order to find out who his Russian mole is.
Coming fresh off the heels of David Leitch’s brilliantly received female led cold war thriller, Atomic Blonde, Red Sparrow sadly lacks all the cool and kick-ass attitude of the former. Having said that, despite its shortcomings in the Bechdellian stakes, Red Sparrow still manages to hold its own by offering an engaging, if not necessarily very clever storyline. As our heroine is subjected time and again to the most humiliatingly demeaning antics, we soon get the impression that the film relies way too much on cheap thrills and titillation instead of using its lead to the best of her abilities.
Lawrence puts in a decent turn in the principle role and excels at offering an effortless vulnerability at all times, however her character’s lack of nuance is perhaps the biggest problem here. Joel Edgerton is as brilliant as ever in a role which doesn’t really appear to demand much from him, however it is Matthias Schoenaerts as sadistic uncle Vanya who put in the most memorable performance in this highly watchable, if a little predictable action thriller.
Other notable performances come courtesy of Ciaran Hinds as Moscow official Alexei Ivanovich Zyuganov and Charlotte Rampling as the scarily hectoring head of the Sparrow School, while Jeremy Irons shines despite not quite being able to decide which accent he’s using from scene to scene.
Despite their best efforts director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Justin Haythe are simply unable to inject much life in Jason Matthews’ novel and we are ultimately left wishing for a meatier screenplay and more action set pieces. A passable, yet forgettable offering from all involved.
Red Sparrow is in Cinemas from March the 1st.