“What the f—…” was my statement of the night while watching Francis Lawrence’s spy thriller, Red Sparrow. There are twists, there were turns and there is a nice heaping of torture, blood and nudity. What more could you want on date night, right? But seriously, this movie had me pretty surprised during some scenes and I wondered if I was watching a spy flick or a Saw movie. Regardless, Red Sparrow definitely has it’s great moments, it’s WTF moments, and moments that I predicted fairly early on.
Before I go into my critique, the movie is centered around Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Dominika Egorova. A prima ballerina who is seen as Russia’s pride and joy. She also has a strong love for her mother who is sick and needs a nurse to care for her while Dominika is away. When she suffers a career-ending injury on stage, Dominika and her mother are faced with a bleak and uncertain future. Dominika eventually finds herself manipulated and then given no choice but to become the newest recruit at the Sparrow School; a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their bodies and minds as weapons through the art of seduction and manipulation. After enduring the twisted and sadistic training tactics, she is pulled from the school as a star pupil and put right into the field to do work for her country. Dominika must now reconcile the person she was with the skills she now possesses, with her own life and everyone she cares about at risk, including an American CIA agent (played by Joel Edgerton) who tries to convince her he is the only person she can trust.
I am keeping the story synopsis as generic as possible for Red Sparrow because giving away even the slightest bit of extraneous information can spoil the turns that the movie takes. I will say that the brutality of the movie is one of the twists I was not expecting. I would even use the word savage to describe some of the violent scenes in the movie. Now violence does not turn me off in any way, I rather enjoy it in my movies as long as it isn’t gratuitous, but this movie really shocked me… in a good way! When you come into a movie like this, with Jennifer Lawrence starring, you really don’t expect this kind of brutality in the film and it was, honestly, pretty hardcore. Blood, torture, and even a Final Destination like death definitely add to the movie in a very surprising way.
The sexual content was pretty up there as well. This movie really rides a strong R rating and isn’t scared to push the envelope. While you do see this aspect more during the Sparrow School section, it does fit with the tone of what these students are trying to learn so it doesn’t feel tacked on for the sake of showing skin. The art of seduction and manipulation doesn’t always work with your clothes on and the movie isn’t afraid to show that aspect. It doesn’t feel out of place nor does it feel cheap. The flesh is merely a tool and the movie treats it as such which I think adds to the cold mentality of what it is to be a Russian spy, especially as a female.
One thing I will say that, despite the above, which I did enjoy, you are not seeing anything mind-blowing or original here. Anyone who has seen as many spy and espionage films as I have, and I presume there are some of you out there reading this who have seen more than me, you will see a lot of the same territory being covered. Spies who know they’re being tailed. The uncertainty of who to trust. The finale that makes you say “Oh snap.” Sadly though, I predicted the ending about 25 minutes into the 132 minute thriller. Once I got a lock on what the motivations were for the characters, I was pretty dead set on where the movie was going to end up. Now, don’t get me wrong, while I was fairly sure on how things would turn out, I had no idea how we were going to get there. I knew the destination, but the route was completely lost on me, so I will give the movie that and, I really think that is what matters most. The overall journey of the movie. The journey kept me engaged throughout and like I said, I was saying “What the f___” a whole lot through the movie due to some of the surprises it throws at you.
Jennifer Lawrence gives a wonderful performance as ballerina turned intelligence spy, Dominika, although her accent bugged me a bit. As a voice actor, I couldn’t help but finding myself REALLY listening to her accent and hearing it come in and out every now and again. I don’t claim to be able to replicate the perfect Russian accent, but hers seemed like she was a Russian who moved to the US as a kid and now at 28 is slowly losing her accent. It’s there, but sometimes it’ll vanish on a word or two. Minor critique. Overall, she slays as Dominika and did not surprise me or disappoint. Joel Edgerton also brings in a pretty standard “I’m one of the good guys” performances that is typical for the role, but I still enjoyed watching him overall. Except in one scene he was in. Yikes. You’ll see what I mean.
The settings were gorgeous, moving from Moscow to London and then to Budapest with the musical score keeping you mesmerized. They did a fantastic job of using the music to make you feel tense when needed and before you knew it there were violins playing a screeching note that would crescendo with the action and you would feel it all. Visually and audibly. Stunning.
Overall, while I didn’t see anything ground breaking in terms of the typical spy film, as a thriller, it delivered handsomely. Director F.Lawrence really surprised me with this film because, what exactly would you expect from the man who handled three Hunger Games films? Honestly, not this. Bravo sir. Even though I knew where you were taking me, you gave me one extremely interesting journey and for that I thank you.
Red Sparrow hits theaters March 2nd.