I’ll tell you one thing. I am 100% behind this new Jennifer Lawrence. It seems like ever since Passengers, she’s been stepping out of her comfort zone and delivering some really different and interesting stuff. And by different and interesting stuff, I mean stuff that’ll make your grandmother very uncomfortable.
Red Sparrow is a new erotic thriller from director Francis Lawrence (No relation, thank god), whose previous work has included the mediocre but financially successful Hunger Games sequels and Will Smith’s I Am Legend which is…okay. Needless to say, he’s not the most exciting filmmaker, but this is by far his best work. Unlike anything he’s ever done before, he’s presented a gripping, slow, creative thriller that works out to a fine little film. But here’s a secret: It’s still not great. The film opens with Jennifer Lawrence as a world-famous Russian Primaballerina, a plot point that she herself has described as “hilarious.” Thankfully there’s only one awkwardly digitized ballet scene before, through a series of extenuating circumstances, she is coerced into working for the Russian intelligence as a member of the sparrow program, a group of covert operatives trained in seduction as a weapon. From here we are launched into a tangled, slow-burn thriller pitting her opposite Joel Edgerton as a good-hearted CIA operative.
The performances in this film really make it. Lawrence is cool and cruel in this role and, to her credit, provides a fairly believable Russian accent. Of course, I’m not Russian so it could be terrible, but hey, them’s the brakes. Matthias Schoenaerts plays her uncle in the film and, despite likely only being cast because he looks exactly like Putin, holds his own among the bevy of academy-award winners and nominees that surround him. Joel Edgerton once again proves to be an underappreciated talent but is unfortunately withheld from any truly meaty scenes. Jeremy Irons does his thing, but my personal favorite performance in the film comes from the incomparable Charlotte Rampling as the brutal headmistress of the sparrow program. Her scenes worked the best out of any and pitting her opposite the stubborn ingenue that is Jennifer Lawrence was a match that worked perfectly.
This is an exploitation film. There’s no doubt about it. Beyond just the gratuity of the many seduction scenes, it is very, very violent. There were several shots in this flick that had me thinking to myself, “wow, okay. Wow, o-WOW, OKAY.” I mean, they really went there, to a point that I’m not sure if the violence ever got to be too much, as the film never seemed to step across a line, but it certainly pushed it. The script is pretty good, but it drags in plenty of spots. It seemed like any time the screenwriter felt the story start to drag he would just be like, “alright, let’s just beat up Jennifer again. Great, cut, print.” And like many many R-rated spy thrillers before it, it all just gets to be a little much after a while. The movie’s almost two and a half hours, just because it’s supposed to be, and it never really earns it. What bothered me most about the film was just how arrogant it was. It thought it was some kind of masterpiece but in reality…it’s just like a TNT Thursday night showcase. Watch it on HBO Go, but, unless you really really love spy thrillers, you should probably skip it in the theater.
All images come from Red Sparrow, a film by 20th Century Fox