Film review: Red Sparrow – Dead on arrival

Director Francis Lawrence and Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence (they are no relation, I’ve checked) aren’t a new combination when it comes to film-making. In fact, Francis Lawrence may have kick-started the world’s love affair with the young actress after he directed her in the best Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire.

They both went on to finish the saga with Mockingjay’s two instalments and the rest as they say, is box office magic. Here though, they both take on a very different project, aimed at a very different group of movie fans. Red Sparrow is the first hard-hitting thriller of 2018. But is it any different from the plethora of films already out there in the genre?

Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent Nate Nash (yes really) who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.

The film starts off very promisingly as the audience are treated to a beautifully choreographed opening that follows Lawrence in the height of her dancing fame and Edgerton as he goes about an assignment. Both characters don’t intertwine to this point with the music building to a crescendo as we realise both their nights go very wrong. Unfortunately, this impressive crescendo signals something else, the start of a downhill slope for Red Sparrow.

For a film marketed as a classy, adults-only thriller, Red Sparrow has very little in the way of class, despite the inclusion of Jennifer Lawrence. Her acting, as usual is sublime, minus her at times dreadful Russian accent and the rest of the cast do their best with Edgerton coming across well, but the rest of the film is just such a mess. Jeremy Irons feels incredibly miscast as a Russian General and the script by Justin Haythe is borderline incomprehensible.

The overuse of graphic violence and sex really does it no favours. There’s only so many times you can watch Lawrence be raped without wondering what the hell the film-makers thought they were doing and one (thankfully consensual) sex scene will have your eyes rolling in the back of your head: not out of pleasure, but out of absurdity.

Then there’s the action, or lack thereof. Where films like Atomic Blonde stylised the violence and the action to create a particular aesthetic, Red Sparrow just doesn’t. The limited amount of action that is presented to the audience is lazily filmed and worlds apart from director Francis Lawrence’s excellent work on the Hunger Games series. Sure, the sets are lavish and the globetrotting that Lawrence gets to do is pleasant enough, but we’ve seen it all before and done much, much better.

The final act pieces together everything that has come before is 30 minutes too late. At 140 minutes long, Red Sparrow is an absolute behemoth of a film but there is no reason whatsoever for it to be this long. Had it been thrilling and entertaining it could have gotten away with it – unfortunately it drags continuously from beginning to end.

Overall, Red Sparrow is a real dud that even the talents of Jennifer Lawrence can’t save. Not only is it never entertaining and frequently repugnant, it really begs the question: why did Lawrence pick such a bizarre choice of role in the first place? If it’s to escape her Katniss Everdeen persona she’s succeeded, but this could make movie studios think twice about casting her in projects in the future.

Red Sparrow rating: 4/10