Well, the Russians are back — not just in news about corrupting our elections and social media, but as movie villains, too. “Red Sparrow” plays like an old Cold War movie, full of spies and secrets and seduction.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet. When her career is ended by what seems to be a freak accident, she’s recruited by her uncle (a higher-up in the Russian espionage world) to become a student at Sparrow School, where students learn how to seduce enemy agents to get information out of them. The scenes at the “whore school,” run by Charlotte Rampling, include nudity of both the male and female variety (including Lawrence), and some sexual situations that helped the movie earn its hard R rating.
Soon, Lawrence leaves the school because she’s given a mission involving a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who has a mole within the Russian hierarchy. Her job is to seduce him and get that information, but along the way there are plenty of other characters running through the plot, and a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Bill Camp, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, and Mary-Louise Parker.
Lawrence gives a brave performance and must have really trusted director Francis Lawrence, who’s not related to her, but worked with her on the last three “Hunger Games” movies. She and the other actors maintain their Russian accents pretty well except for a few scenes where they slip.
“Red Sparrow” has the most dense script I’ve heard in a long time, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. The movie is based on a novel by Jason Matthews, and I wished I had a copy to refer to as I watched so I could go back a few pages here and there to figure out what was happening, who’s who, and myriad other questions. Will Lawrence uncover Edgerton’s secret? Will she defect and run away to America with him? What will happen to her sick mother? Will the torture scene really be that graphic? (Yes, I had to look away for a few seconds.) Will the pace ever pick up or are we going to drag all the way to the finish line?
Unfortunately, most of those questions weren’t answered to my satisfaction. By the time it got to the resolution, I didn’t care all that much. Matthews wrote two more books in the “Red Sparrow” trilogy, and perhaps the movie producers thought they were launching a new Jennifer Lawrence franchise here, but I don’t see that happening. In fact the idea of Jennifer Lawrence anything may be in danger. Her previous three movies (“Joy,” “Passengers,” and “Mother”) were not well-received, and I doubt this one will be. It certainly didn’t please me.
I give “Red Sparrow” a 4 out of 10.
P.S. If you want to watch a better movie with a big female star playing a Russian spy, spend three bucks and rent the 2010 thriller “Salt,” starring Angelina Jolie.