Red Sparrow (2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/10/18
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons

When ballerina Dominika Egorova's (Jennifer Lawrence) career is cut short, she is recruited by the Russian government to become a spy and trained in the art of psychosexual warfare. She excels at emotional manipulation and is assigned to uncover a mole in the Russian intelligence community by getting close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Knowing that it's just a matter of time before she's killed, Dominika is determined to be more than just a disposable pawn in a political power struggle, and she risks everything trying to find a way out.

It's a slow burning spy thriller that's driven entirely by Jennifer Lawrence's fierce and commanding performance. She is stunning throughout, although her blunt bangs are a constant distraction and extremely unflattering. It's essentially an R-rated version of the "Black Widow" movie that Marvel continues to refuse to make. However, there are lots of places where Natasha Romanov could inject some action and improve on the story, so I'm not ready to write that project off just yet. The world of "Red Sparrow" is ugly and unpleasant, where dehumanized people are used as tools and quickly discarded once they outlive their usefulness. Dominika chooses life as an agent over a bullet in her head, but her new existence as a government whore is full of torture, rape, degradation, and abuse. However, her focus and resolve are rock solid and she never loses sight of the end goal, which is the film's biggest pay-off. While her actions convey a strong sense of female empowerment, there's a vicious undercurrent of misogyny that constantly reminds you who the real power players are. The story is also strangely anachronistic, as it takes place in the present, but government secrets are being smuggled on floppy disks. Can you even buy floppy disks anymore? That really made me question the time period, but all other technology in the film is modern and up to date, so it doesn't make a lot of sense and really stands out as an anomaly.

There's very little action to speak of, but the brief moments where Jennifer Lawrence violently lashes out are very convincing and compelling. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The production is bare and minimalistic, which reflects the moral and emotional emptiness of the characters and the gritty tone of the material. Similarly, the music is extremely subtle and simply accents the tension and dread. It's a troubling and haunting film that overstays its welcome, and it's difficult to make all of the pieces fit together.