Based upon the book of the same name by ex-CIA agent Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is a modern-day spy thriller by director Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I Am Legend) that harks back to the days of the cold war thrillers of the 70s/80s but fails to update it appropriately, coming across as a piece of vitriolic propaganda and little else. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and the rest of the top-notch cast try their damndest to give it some credibility but the story and premise make for a predictably silly and gratuitous affair on many levels.
Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is the top female dancer at the Bolshoi ballet theatre in Russia, her career ruined by a terrible injury. As the Bolshoi theatre seeks to wash its hands clean of ‘damaged goods’, giving her job and home to a rival, Dominika and her sick mother’s welfare are put in jeopardy. Seeing an opportunity, Dominika’s spymaster uncle makes her an offer she can’t refuse, in return for the safeguard of her mother’s health. This leads her unwillingly into the world of espionage and the Sparrow program, where seduction and the art of the honey-trap are the key weapons.
By the time you get through a quarter of the mind-numbingly long 139 minutes, the viewer is left in no doubt of Red Sparrow’s predictable outcome. This inevitable plotline is laboured along by the director’s attempts to mask it with half-assed twists and turns that just don’t feel plausible when putting it in the life or death, professional espionage scenario that the story is supposed to portray. On a side note concerning the realism of the espionage, who in Lord’s name uses floppy disks in this day and age?
Joel Edgerton (The Gift) is reliable as ever playing the CIA agent that she ends up in a game of cat and mouse with but the relationship does not feel natural, especially with how the script moves their love-tinged story along. The dialogue is cliche-ridden, telegraphic and Lawrence, although competent enough, acting wise, lets her slightly dodgy accent drop every so often, making for some unintentional moments of humour. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this is not.
The main trio of ‘evil’ Russians has the very talented Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop) — looking very Putinesque! — playing the devious spymaster uncle to a believable degree, Jeremy Irons hamming it up as a ruthless general and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) in an absolutely ludicrously over-the-top role as the sinister Matron of the Sparrow program. The whole Sparrow training sequence is like something out of Armand Ianucci’s fantastic, The Death Of Stalin, minus the satire, as it serves to show the viewer how Russia is trying to take over the planet and that Russians are inherent bigots, deviants, rapists and sociopaths.
The overall theme of this nonsense is to remind us not to forget that Russians, in general, are twisted, violent and manipulative control freaks, while all the men are partial to beating women and rather rapey, apparently. And of course, the CIA are all good ole boys who occasionally mess up, but are out to free the world from tyranny and have everyone’s best interests at heart.
I’m not sure how much screenwriter Justin Haythe (The Lone Ranger) carved up the story of the book but this is trashy beyond belief. Red Sparrow is what can be described as twaddle — brutal, nasty, predictable, occasionally boring but always gratuitous twaddle. Kev Lovski