It came as rather a surprise to me to learn that Red Sparrow is based on a book. Sure, your average spy thriller trips over itself to throw in twists and intrigue and a good bit of sex, but this picture feels more like a collage of favorite spy tropes mashed up with a hardcore version of army training meets dystopian kid survival scenario. Let’s examine the evidence: Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet becomes an unwilling recruit to “Sparrow School” after her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high-ranking intelligence officer, forces her into a scenario where she’s used as bait, raped, and witnesses a murder only to be told she messed up, but the State is generous and will allow her to train to become a super secret sex spy. Sheesh.
So, what exactly is Jennifer Lawrence, a dramatic powerhouse and elite A-lister doing in this messy, messy popcorn flick? I haven’t the slightest clue, but because she’s there, it’s a delightful mess. I like to imagine JLaw’s decisionmaking process as something along the lines of: “Russian ballerina turned seductress spy? Sure, why not?”
As someone who revels in watching exceptional performers take vacations to the land of material that’s far below their talents, I had few complaints about this delightful mess. It’s far, far too easy to pick apart, but I don’t mind admitting that it’s a fun, if baffling ride. For every unnecessary scene that feels like an excuse to make Lawrence get skint and make come-hither eyes at the camera, there’s a scene of her suffering no fools and bringing her enemies to their knees in creative fashion. It might be basic, but it’s still satisfying.
Red Sparrow is too long by at least half an hour, but it has the advantage of Lawrence chewing scenery right and left while Joel Edgerton plays it straight as the heroic American who gets caught in the web of Russian intrigue. This movie is absurd and absurdly flawed, but it manages to avoid the mistake of trying too hard to outsmart us. Red Sparrow knows what it is and manages to wring entertainment value out of an effort that might have been a disaster. For that, it deserves passing consideration at least, and your amused, if judgy, attention at best.