The main character of the intense, mystery-thriller Red Sparrow is forced to grapple with the challenges of her role as a female spy.
The movie, loosely based on the 2013 Jason Matthews novel, takes place in modern-day Russia. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a hardworking, beautiful and charismatic prima ballerina who doubles as caretaker to her sickly mother.
After suffering a career-ending injury, Dominika is manipulated by her uncle, a Russian intelligence official, into attending Sparrow School, an elite spy program which trains extraordinary young Russians to blackmail, seduce and deceive Americans. In her first assignment Dominika is sent to Budapest to extort CIA agent Nate Nash and discover the mole exposing top-secret Russian information. Instead, she ends up questioning the system and her personal values.
Lawrence, though over-sexualized in skimpy outfits, lends depth, sensitivity and strength to Dominika. While at times her accent comes off as forced — and admittedly, laughable — she effectively portrays a fearless heroine who defies gender stereotypes with her wits.
Lawrence is experienced at playing strong, female leads — and it shows. In Red Sparrow, she effectively balances Dominika's vicious brutality with her innate vulnerability. There are stark similarities between Dominika and Lawrence's earlier roles. Dominika pushes herself to the extreme to protect her loved ones, overcoming both physical and emotional torture, much like Katniss Everdeen.
In retrospect, Joel Edgerton (Loving), plays a decent Nash. He's sweet, down to earth and invested in Dominika, but at times Edgerton's acting comes off stressed and insincere. The duo is an interesting love combination, at times lacking chemistry. Scenes between the pair are often awkward or over-dramatized (especially sex scenes). More importantly, Dominika's reliance on Nash makes for a cliched damsel-in-distress plot line.
Unfortunately, Red Sparrow is slow moving. Long, unnecessary and tedious conversation scenes drag on, while disjointed, overlapping plot lines lead to confusion. The movie toys with numerous storylines and characters — the ill mother, the cunning uncle, the dangerous spy mission and the forbidden romance.
Using these side-plots and themes, Red Sparrow attempts to differentiate itself from traditional spy thrillers. However, it's too much content to thoroughly cover in 139 minutes — or any movie in general. By the credits, viewers have not only forgotten about Dominika's ill mother and why she got into this mess in the first place; but most importantly, her ballerina past.
The movie also lacks action. There's graphic, unnecessary American Horror Story-style torture scenes and anti-climatic, bizarre sex scenes. However, there's no car racing sequence or Mission Impossible-style shootout. In a sense, it's relieving, but the overused plot line had the potential to add oomph to the slow-moving nature of the film. At times I felt bored and unenthused, half-anticipating an end to my misery.
While many things go awry, at times, the ballerina sub-plot lends beautiful classical music and piano undertones to otherwise simplistic scenes. Interspersed throughout the movie, these symphonies perpetuate the plot, climaxing during integral, over-the-top moments while taking solo shots to the next level.
Despite numerous inconsistencies, Red Sparrow also triumphs with its cryptic social commentary, including its subtle-yet-meaningful critique of gender issues and 21st century politics. Dominika, a trained government-owned prostitute has been raped, mistreated and coerced into committing undesired sexual acts. The movie brings up numerous questions related to women's rights and sexual harassment. Dominika is a fictional character, but an authentic representation of many women on a global level.