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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Cliché-driven "Red Sparrow" lacks intrigue

Mar 01, 2018 10:06PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton in Red Sparrow - © 2018 20th Century Fox.

Red Sparrow (20th Century Fox)

Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Camp, Hugh Quarshie, Sakina Jaffrey, Joely Richardson, Thekla Reuten, Douglas Hodge, Sasha Frolova, Kristof Konrad.

Written by Justin Haythe, based on the novel by Jason Matthews.

Directed by Francis Lawrence.



Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all we hear in the news media these days, it seems those darned “Reds” are back in vogue as the villain of choice, following a short hiatus after the so-called “end” of the Cold War.  We were all supposed to be playing nice after the fall of Communism in the USSR, but the paranoia between western superpowers and the Soviets is growing colder by the minute. All that’s missing is the threat of global thermonuclear annihilation, and we’re right back where we were in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. The reality of news coverage has also spilled onto the movie screen, as the Russians have supplanted Islamic extremists as the “It” villains in films. Such is the setting for Red Sparrow, the story of a beautiful Russian agent faced with the proposition of being a double agent.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika, a talented dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet. When an injury ends her dancing career, she falls under the influence of her Uncle Dimitrevich (Matthias Schoenarts) who sends her to “Sparrow” training at a harsh “whore school” that specializes in seduction and manipulation. Charlotte Rampling plays the “Matron” of the school, where young attractive spies learn how to use sex to ply information from foreign actors. Dominika survives the training and is given her first assignment in Budapest, where she is supposed to root out a double agent within the Russian ranks. The mysterious mole is an operative who works with CIA agent Nate Walsh (Joel Edgerton), who immediately recognizes Dominika as a “sparrow.” Despite his suspicions, Walsh gets closer to Dominika and they engage in a sexual/romantic relationship, despite both knowing that they are spies. There is also a side story involving an American government employee (Mary-Louise Parker) who is selling U.S. secrets to the Russians. When her bosses suspect Dominika might be the mole, she is brought back to Russia, tortured and sent back to betray Agent Walsh. There are all kinds of twists and turns, as Dominika and Nate try to work several angles to save their own skins and perhaps maintain their relationship.  

Red Sparrow has more than a few flaws, including a hackneyed story that is less than intriguing, and more gratuitous than necessary, especially when it comes several scenes of rape, torture and brutal violence. The use of thick “Boris and Natasha” Russian accents from Lawrence, Rampling, Schoenarts, Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds (who also play Russian spy bosses) starts to wear on you during the 133 minute run time, like evening of dinner theater in St. Petersburg (Florida).

Oh, and did I mention the rape and sexual violence? Yeah, there’s America’s sweetheart, baring all for the sake of “art” that relegates women to nothing more than sexual weapons and playthings for powerful men.

Yes, there is some espionage and tension in Red Sparrow, but nothing that catches the imagination or deters the audience from a rather pedestrian, forgone conclusion of the film’s final act. Director Francis Lawrence, who also helmed the last three Hunger Games films with Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) seems fixated on the more exploitive aspects of Dominika’s story than the substantive intrigue of East-West relationships in the New Cold War.

I blame the Russians.

Red Sparrow Trailer