Jennifer Lawrence takes more than a few lumps in the violent spy thriller, Red Sparrow. The actress delivers her most sexually charged performance yet, while getting beaten to a pulp throughout. It is her fourth collaboration with Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), who helmed the last three Hunger Games movies. Red Sparrow has a circuitous plot that runs somewhat cold in the middle. The downbeats are snapped by interspersed scenes of raw brutality. This back and forth swing keeps the narrative interesting enough to the big reveal.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. A tragic turn of events leads her into the clutches of her spymaster uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenarts). He exploits her beauty and natural seductiveness. Sending her to a top secret spy school, where she is trained by an uncompromising teacher (Charlotte Rampling). Dominika is thrust into the world of high stakes espionage. She is assigned to seduce a disgraced CIA agent (Joel Edgerton), who is the sole trusted handler of a long hidden Russian mole.
Red Sparrow juggles several subplots. The film wants to keep you guessing about the characters true intentions. Who is betraying whom in a twisted mix of sex and violence. It works initially, then gets bogged down by the details. At two hours and twenty minutes, the film does drag; but there really isn't anything to cut. The minutia is necessary to establish character and plot development. The screenplay by Justin Haythe attempts to capture the nuances of the source novel. He goes thick in the weed at points, thus the screen adaptation falters. It isn't easy bringing dense novels to the big screen. Red Sparrow needed a tighter script to shore up the layers of complexity.
Jennifer Lawrence does not hold back in her gritty performance. Dominika is an unwilling pawn in a vicious game. The character faces nonstop brutality. I won't go into details, but her treatment in Red Sparrow is pretty heinous. The scope of Dominika's arc can be summarized as gaining power over her abusers. That's the best part of Red Sparrow and well done by Lawrence. The rub is that she doesn't have chemistry with co-star Joel Edgerton. He does well by himself as an operative, but they don't mesh well together. The pair has multiple raw scenes that don't quite pay off.
Francis Lawrence never fails to bring artistry to his films. He has a tremendous talent for setting the mood of his story. Red Sparrow sells the look of murky espionage. The film has a bleakness that flows. Even when Dominika is dolled up for seduction, there is darkness to the production design and cinematography. Francis Lawrence successfully depicts an unwilling participant. His protagonist is gorgeous, surrounded by opulence, but just an instrument for purpose. This is also well done when Dominika is being trained. The school and its participants are drab, colorless, entirely soul crushing. Lawrence then hits you like a sledgehammer with graphic bloodshed. It is raw and uncompromising, providing a much needed jolt at times. Jennifer Lawrence is wise for continuing to work for this director.
From Twentieth Century Fox, Red Sparrow is a better than average foray into the spy genre. It runs long, but captivates with a strong lead performance and shocking violence. The film earns its hard R-rating. Red Sparrow is easily the most graphic performance we've seen from Jennifer Lawrence. She continues to push her boundaries as an actress.