Red Sparrow (2018)
If ever there was a movie ill-suited to the times it is the espionage thriller Red Sparrow (2018). In the Weinstein era, films that are heavy on gratuitous violence and sexual degradation of women feel strangely out of place. Today’s seismic shift in gender politics turns this film into an unfortunate miscalculation that not even stellar talent can save.
Like most spy thrillers, the fractured and complex plotline requires close attention to detail or you risk getting lost in the criss-crossing double-speak of Cold War espionage. Beautiful Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is an emerging Russian ballet superstar whose career ends abruptly after an horrific on-stage accident. In debt for her State-supported flat and medical expenses, she is recruited by her uncle for training at a Russian intelligence-run “whore-school” that produces elite female spies skilled in seduction and torture. She is assigned to uncover a mole working for the Americans and her target source of information is CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). A personal relationship develops that was not covered in whore-school curriculum and Dominika becomes a double-agent with hopes of defecting to America, if she survives.
The classic spy thriller keeps you guessing who can be trusted right up to the final scene, but this one focuses more on our heroine’s appearance under unusual circumstances. Dominika is quick to expose her flesh and sexual charms in pursuit of her quarry, and she has no qualms about smashing heads or surgically removing skin from uncooperative victims. On the one hand, her performance is commendable for its icy bravado and lack of emotion, but on the other, her expressionless plasticity makes it difficult to warm to her. The chemistry between Dominika and Nate is tame at best, and the only moments when she appears human is when showing tenderness towards her ailing mother. It is a challenge finding anyone likeable in this film and the fake Russian accents add a comical element to their performance. Even the addition of luminaries like Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling fails to raise the movie beyond a modest B-grade effort.
Of course, there will be viewers who enjoy seeing Jennifer Lawrence bare all in the name of art, and many will find the classroom sex tutorials titillating. Others may question whether repetitive sex and violence are a worthy platform for celebrating talented women, or if it is fair play to depict Russian female operatives as graduates of the oldest profession. But those questions are far too serious for a film that is more about appearance than substance.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons