RED SPARROW (FILM REVIEW)

Ah, Jennifer “I’ve-got-range” Lawrence. Hers is the name that launches a thousand roles, but maybe that brand is starting to slip with over-exposure. Forbes’ highest paid actress in 2015 and 2016 lost her place last year to Emma Stone – a sign that maybe the starlet’s reign is over?

So Red Sparrow would be like a tail wind of a gig for her. And it shows, though luckily just slightly. Lawrence’s Russian espionage flick is based on Jason Matthew’s book of the same name, and she performs adequately in the role of an intelligence spy eliciting information from an American CIA agent.

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With her barely-there accent and dated haircut, Lawrence seems a little confused on which route to take with her character, Dominika Egorova, at times. A ballerina with her future cut short by a crushed leg, her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers the damsel a way out of her financial predicament, by offering her the chance to be a compliant patriot as a Sparrow.

Unlike the demure bird, the Russian Sparrows are a group of intelligence spies, trained in the art of seduction. They are taught weapons in psychology to extricate a person’s weaknesses and desires, so as to use them against the target.

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“A person is a puzzle of desires, and you become the missing piece,” purrs the matron (Charlotte Rampling) of the intelligence school. Which begs the question from a reluctant Dominika – are we really just in a whore school?

With her home country’s associates clearly putting state above person, she finds herself in a dilemma when the American CIA Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) turns out to be more sympathetic. Of course. United States, good. Russia, baaaaad.

This is where Red Sparrow is seduced by itself. By over-simplifying the geopolitical relationship, it comes across as frail propaganda, and the promised story of a tormented Sparrow torn between sides becomes clear, much too early.

Or is it?

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Director Francis Lawrence does finesse his detours with reasonable skill, with some wanderings that confuse more than compel, and lands a few good twists even for a seasoned goer. But his lead actress struggles with the layers of deception, which makes for a few uncomfortable scenes.

Speaking of uncomfortable, the movie enjoys quite a few shots of sexual abuse and gory torture, so folks with a sensitive palate might be doing a lot of tsk-ing in the theatre. It’s all meant of course to drill in the brutality of the Russian regime, compared to the liberal Americans, so no expense is spared there. Bring on the skin scraper.

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As Lawrence dances from persona to persona, it’s likely some in the audience will get lost in the plot. The comments overheard after the credits are a testimony to the quick-switches and incremental pacing of the spy thriller.

Red Sparrow is stylish and able, like the agent Lawrence herself plays. It does a few maneuvers and raises the pulse a little, but may fall short of being the prima ballerina she desperately dreamt to be.

Rating: 3.5*

Richly produced film with heavy emphasis on Lawrence, the sexual and violent nature will no doubt raise eyebrows, but you have to admit then that you were seduced to watch it anyway.

First published: www.movieXclusive.com

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