Alex Reviews "Red Sparrow"
If The Hunger Games grew up more disturbingly violent and adulterated, the result would be Red Sparrow. Not because of its star, Jennifer Lawrence, necessarily, but moreso when paired with the director of the last three of the former’s films in Francis Lawrence. Based upon the book of the same name by retired CIA operative Jason Matthews, the film follows the story of Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) from tragic ballerina to hyper-sexualized spy.
From the opening scene, each level of the story seems to be designed to crush her further and further into oblivion, and it made me wonder if Jennifer Lawrence had offended Francis Lawrence on a prior set, which led to the brutality her character endures. From her first sequence where she breaks her leg with a crippling injury during a ballet performance to finding out that it may not have been an accident, her sense of revenge destroys her sense of morality. When she agrees to seduce a person of interest (Joel Edgerton) in order to keep her apartment and care for sick mother (Joely Richardson) at the encouragement of her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), her shame is part of her past, and this deconstruction continues for most of the film.
The film itself is highly stylized and very well made, with distinct presentation appearing almost as a signature on every scene, best illustrated in the opening scene being the only one vibrantly lit. Everything that follows seems to convey the dinge and despair of each location that the story leads with pinpoint accuracy, all the way to the climax in near total darkness beyond some strategic illumination.
Jennifer Lawrence shows an entirely new dimension to her acting alluded to in prior films but never actually shown to this extent. It would be very easy to see audiences turning on this film purely from the discomfort they feel from seeing someone that has grown up before their eyes in something that borders on an adult film. The talented cast around her perfectly fills their roles, but only Lawrence truly pops off the screen. Joel Edgerton (Bright) fills the void of the romantic counterpart/potential patsy, but the story could be at least partly to blame for lack of true character development as the one axiom of the screenplay is that Dominika is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.
At its best moments, the narrative displays a very taut thriller that never plays its hand until the very end, but it its worst it suffers from poor pacing. Do not expect the heavy action many recent spy movies rely on as the spy work is almost entirely sex as its weapon. In fact, despite many scenes occurring at a *cough* spy *cough* school, there are no trainings other than how an agent could use their bodies to extract information.
There is no way to describe Red Sparrow simply. It requires covering the incredibly visceral nature of the grittiness while being sure to clarify the excruciating suspense to this Cat-and-Mouse game. If either of those sounds like it is up your alley, see this movie. If not, at least you can learn how a skin grafter works and why it is an effective torture device.