Red Sparrow

No actor is immune from making a bad movie; even some of the best have been guilty. However, a string of bad films might be cause for concern in an industry where the latest “It” girl can change from one year to the next. I don’t think Jennifer Lawrence (Mother!) has anything to worry about, as she’s been the toast of Tinseltown for a few years now, a bonafide megastar. But Red Sparrow marks her second consecutive disappointing feature (last year’s Mother! was an esoteric mess), and now I know that her presence alone doesn’t necessarily elevate a bad movie.

Red Sparrow intrigued with me its premise, the story of a Russian ballerina who becomes a spy. That’s all I gleaned from the trailer, and I imagined Black Swan meets La Femme Nikita or something. Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorovo, a ballerina with a promising career but meager finances and an ailing mother.  When she suffers a catastrophic injury on stage, she is presented with an opportunity to become a “sparrow,” a covert operative deployed by the Russian government in matters of espionage. Her training commences, and Dominika is subjected to a series of tasks and rituals designed to break her psychologically and emotionally. The film’s first act was its best, and I found it fascinating to witness their methods of training and subjugation. Veteran actor Charlotte Rampling (Assassin’s Creed) is featured as the “Matron,” subjecting the recruits to such humiliation as public nudity and intercourse.

As the film shifted into its second and third acts, the plot veered to and fro, with nothing but Jennifer Lawrence and some nice visuals holding the movie together. Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) has shown from his music video beginnings a deft ability to capture stunning visual imagery of his subjects and their environments, and the film’s cinematography was one of its few bright spots. About midway through, Joel Edgerton (Bright) appears as an American spy to whom Dominika is assigned. He attempts to turn her and recruit her as a double agent, and it was all downhill from there. I can’t tell you much else about the film, because at that point I simply didn’t know what was happening anymore.

Jennifer Lawrence is a really good actress. American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and Winter’s Bone all prove it. I’m not sure if Red Sparrow seemed like a good script when she initially read it, but I found writer Justin Haythe’s screenplay muddled, meandering, and confusing. Perhaps the source material was richer, but its interpretation left much to be desired. Jennifer Lawrence is better than this? Scenes that were intended as provocative and edgy came across as lurid and trashy instead. I can appreciate the alluring surface qualities, Lawrence’s beauty and the rich decadence of the environment, but that’s where my praise ends. Wait until this one makes its way to HBO.

Grade: C

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