Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Director Francis Lawrence (FLaw) teams up with actress Jennifer Lawrence (JLaw) for the fourth time in this year’s spy thriller Red Sparrow. Based on the award-winning novel of the same name, by author Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow guides us through the thick veil of modern-day Russia to reveal that the paranoia and complexities of the Cold War never truly ended. JLaw plays Dominika Egorova, a once-promising Russian ballerina who is forced to leave her dancing career behind after an unfortunate accident. Her uncle, a man with connections in the Russian intelligence agency, offers her another life. A life of espionage and seduction. The life of a Sparrow.
Red Sparrow is like a gorgeous and impressively crafted evening gown displayed in that one expensive boutique you walk past every time you visit downtown. You often dream of what you would look like in the dress, but the thick glass and daunting price tag leaves you as a mere spectator. FLaw and his troupe of actors, which includes Joel Edgerton as a CIA agent, wear their full commitment to a rather lackluster script on their sleeves.
The film fights to tell a classic story of deception with a protagonist we never have a clear or even concrete reason to distrust. FLaw and screenwriter Justin Haythe quite often place Dominika in moments rife with suspicion, but that suspicion never feels believable because it doesn’t come across as though FLaw and Haythe believe in it either.
Sadly, the film hits its peak in the first act. The sequences of Dominika as a ballerina and her training at the infamous Sparrow school don’t have the “gut punch” impact it should have had. The film begins once Dominika meets Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent Nate Nash and from then on an unexpected redirection of focus plagues the rest of the film. While JLaw should be commended for her willingness to commit to scenes of seduction, grim interrogation and torture, the script once again does a major discredit to her as a legit spy because of the lack of proper setup in the first act.
Red Sparrow is a frustrating piece of work, indeed. Just when the film is on its way to becoming a great, challenging piece of art, Francis Lawrence’s hand slips off the steering wheel and he finds himself on an endless and meandering dirt road to nowhere.