“Red Sparrow” had me totally breathless in its opening scenes. The seamless interflow between a prima ballerina’s beautifully tragic final performance and the thrilling intrigue of a CIA spy exchange had me going well into the first chunk of the film as the situations diffused into what would become the central plot. Unfortunately this initial momentum progressively fizzles out throughout the film’s girthy 120-minute runtime.
Sabotaged and permanently crippled by her fellow ballerinas, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is coerced by her uncle, a high-ranking member of Russian intelligence, to serve as bait for a politician. Following problematic outcomes, Dominika is sent to a secret Russian facility training spies — known as “sparrows” — for the state.
You’re always rooting for Dominka, and though Lawrence gives another good performance, it’s ultimately more or less forgettable.
Dominika’s relationship with her mother and her unfortunate circumstances should be more than enough to make an audience care for her, but the film often feels too impersonal and detached to really make one invest in her. It’s a spy film, sure, but there’s no emotional anchor driving one’s investment in any character whatsoever.
In addition, Dominika’s transition from ballerina to semi-spy doesn’t feel earned.
In the context of the whole film, she’s at once overly competent, but also wholly incompetent. In her training, there are also quite a few sexual moments that don’t feel integral or at all earned toward the central narrative. It’s obvious they’re meant to be horrific critiques of the spy culture, but they simply don’t work well in the context of the film — they’re just cruel.
The performances all around are good enough, though the mostly-not-Russian cast acting as Russians has some wonky accent work that sticks out badly, especially in regards to Lawrence and Jeremy Irons. The supporting American side of the cast tends to overshadow its “Russian” counterpart, offering much more dynamic performances that don’t play on the trite evil stereotypes associated with the former.
In execution, “Red Sparrow” does fairly well. If a bit much at times, the score is powerful and very Russian. The film is also shot and directed excellently, milking every drop of tension from every scene. The fact that there’s almost no action in the film makes it all the more impressive.
Unfortunately there’s some inconsistent editing plaguing the film. Scenes between the Russian and American sides are cut too often together, making for some awkward transitions that take away from the momentum generated previously. It’s overall just too long; I thought the film ended probably two or three times before it actually did. The film just kept going, making sure to wrap up every loose end neatly.
“Red Sparrow” is a good enough spy film — it’s just not very special, save for some occasionally hard-to-watch brutality. There are plenty of twists and turns keeping the tension between its two spy leads interesting, but the film is ultimately just tiring.
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hpvalverde.