Red Sparrow is the latest in a line of stories about young women being coerced into joining a secret government organization, wherein they become super spies, or super assassins, or something along those lines. Think of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita.
In Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence is a Russian whose ballet career is ended when her leg is shattered during a performance, after which she sees something she definitely shouldn’t have seen, and she’s told by her secret agent uncle that she has a choice between being killed for witnessing the act, or joining the Russian government’s “Sparrow School,” where young men and women learn the art of deception, espionage, and persuasion, though for some reason essentially all of the lessons involve sexual humiliation. Somehow, Lawrence shows herself to be quite adept at whatever these lessons are supposed to teach, and she’s sent on a mission to ingratiate herself with Joel Edgerton, an American CIA agent who’s been working with a mole in Russian intelligence. Sniffing out the mole is Lawrence’s primary objective, and the object of much of the movie.
Jennifer Lawrence is a fantastic actor, and is surrounded by even more fantastic actors, including Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons. But here, they struggle. Each speaks some variation of a dreadful Russian accent—for a good while I thought Rampling was supposed to be British, and Irons generally mumbles his way through. And Joel Edgerton, who I usually like very much, has made the peculiar acting choice to have no charisma whatsoever.
Red Sparrow is elegant in its production design, and just lurid enough to be somewhat engaging, which is good, because the plot isn’t nearly tight enough to hang on, and it involves a few leaps of logic that are maybe expected, but also a little eye-rolling. There are better examples of this kind of movie out there. Find them.