Film Review: Red Sparrow
Experienced and talented actors—be they British, American or Dutch—can convincingly pull off playing other nationalities if they master the accent. In Red Sparrow, set in Russia, Jennifer Lawrence consistently sounds East European, but the rest of the principal cast appears to have strolled on to the set and just winged it. It is going to take a lot more than a constant refrain of their patriotism and commitment to the red state to convince us of events on screen.
Lawrence embraces her role as Dominika Egorova, a celebrated prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. But when a freak accident brutally puts a stop to her budding career, she finds herself at the mercy of her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts). He takes her under his wing and assures Dominika that her invalid mother will continue to receive the care she needs, even after the patronage of the Bolshoi ceases, if Dominika works for him.
It does not take much for Dominika to be swayed. She is inducted into Sparrow School, a covert government division where men and women are trained to be sparrows—agents who use their bodies, sexuality and guile to entrap a target. Uncle Egorova is unflinching when Dominika accuses him of sending her to “whore school”. Instead she’s handed a highly sensitive case.
Dominika’s major assignment comes soon after her training. She must get close to American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) in order to ascertain who his contact is within the Russian high command. Uncle Egorova is willing to sacrifice anything to get the name of the mole.
Sparrows use sexuality to wield power and to make their target vulnerable. However, owing to some fierce censorship, that aspect of Dominika’s skills is snipped out and with it some impact of the story is, in all likelihood, lost.
Edgerton’s Nash also feels like he is operating in a vacuum. There is a lack of tangible chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton and his character arc flat-lines too early. Chief among the accent-offenders are Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons, who are too British to be believable as high-ranking, card-carrying Russian officers.
Basing his film on a novel (of the same name), director Francis Lawrence tells the story of a double agent but the plot is ho-hum. There is only so much Jennifer Lawrence can do in this set up. Her best scenes are the ones where she’s sitting alone, contemplating her choices, steeling herself as she prepares for her assignment, dressed in crimson red or in a dramatically enticing black one-piece swimsuit, drawing from the production design and costumes what she’s clearly unable to get from the script and her co-stars.