By Navin Rana
Published: March 14th, 2018
Red Sparrow is inspired by Cold-War era spy films, but ultimately, this narrative homage hampers the bright performance of its lead, Jennifer Lawrence. In the feature, Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina who is injured and subsequently recruited by Russian Intelligence as a tool to spy on essential targets. She must learn to use her sexuality and her body as a weapon for the Russian state. After a harsh training regiment, Dominika must go on her first mission which immediately begins to unravel when she meets CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton).
After a more or less interesting turn in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017), Lawrence provides a brilliant performance in her current work. She has no qualms about giving into the physical demands of the role, which involves acting through excessive sexual violence. Apparently, Lawrence spent months preparing for all of the ballet sequences. It is clear she is leaving all of her emotions on the screen. However, the direction follows a voyeuristic feel of both the screenplay and action, making it difficult to emotionally relate to Lawrence’s performance at times, especially when Dominika’s motivations remain unclear towards the end of the film. The audience feels as though they are following Dominika as opposed to going with her on a story. Since this is a character-driven movie, much of the weight of the film rests on Lawrence’s shoulders, though she is able to share this burden with Edgerton and a strong supporting cast with notables like Jeremy Irons. Edgerton’s Nate and Lawrence’s Dominika exhibit an exciting chemistry, one that especially begs future films between the pair of actors.
Sadly, Lawrence’s work alone could not save the film as a whole. As this is a typical spy thriller, many of the turns in the story are quite obvious. With these shifts, there are dull moments in which the film seems to be dragging out the inevitable third act plot twist. Red Sparrow is a two-hour-and-twenty-one-minute feature, which could easily be ten to fifteen minutes shorter without some of the unnecessary sexual content and long, probing scenes that lack development. Much of the suspense and intrigue that build throughout the first half of the film are deflated by the time it takes to reach the intended emotional payoff at the end of the work.
Aside from the narrative lag, the film was simply gorgeous to see and hear. Many of the frames were decorated with dashes of the eponymous red through the costumes, makeup, and set designs. The vibrant colors were also accompanied by a vibrant score composed by John Newton Howard. Red Sparrow is able to set an enthralling atmosphere that engages the audience, especially during the ballet sequences towards the start of the movie. Howard is clearly able to convey an understanding of the film’s world and ambience through the score as evidenced by the eerie, droning score Nightcrawler (2014) and the epic, yet harrowing composition for The Dark Knight (2008). This still might be his best score in some time.
Ultimately, Red Sparrow is a film worth watching to observe Lawrence’s development as an actress. She takes questionable risks, especially for their gratuitous sexual nature, but is able to bring some heart to the character. Despite Lawrence’s performance, however, the lackluster pacing of the film and the flaws of the generic spy story go on to outshine everything else.