Review | ‘Red Sparrow’ fails to deliver on sex, sabotage and shock value

Red Sparrow

“Red Sparrow” was released March 2. Photo courtesy of 21st Century Fox

Sex, sabotage and shock value. Many great thrillers contain these instrumental elements but when they’re haphazardly thrown together in an unrelenting cycle to form a 140-minute film like “Red Sparrow,” the audience is left beaten, battered and begging for more time to recover before the next turn of events.

“Red Sparrow,” directed by Francis Lawrence, unfolds the complexities that lie within the intersecting lives of two individuals – Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a famed Russian ballerina-turned-spy and Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), a devoted American CIA agent.

Francis Lawrence directed three of the four movies in “The Hunger Games” series, which also features Jennifer Lawrence. Some scenes throughout “Red Sparrow” are reminiscent of the fictional dystopia, though the former is darker, grittier and more mature.

But the most notable difference? “The Hunger Games” movies were wildly successful, while “Red Sparrow” drew in a mere $1.2 million the night before its release, Mar. 1, which is devastatingly low for a Jennifer Lawrence headliner.

Like a sullen stream, “Red Sparrow” trickles along without ever gaining momentum. Despite the charged subject matter centered around politics and power, the complicated plot lines doom the film. By underusing suspense and abandoning anticipation, Francis Lawrence’s directing style is similar to a friend who has a poor sense of comedic timing. Though the director does eventually deliver at the end of the film, the manner in which he portrays the narrative nearly costs him the punchline.

Fortunately, the main characters do not resemble the overdone protagonists in other box office features. Unlike those who are fueled by sympathy and woe, Dominika is given an elevated, more profound role. The film doesn’t present her as the common underdog with a strong bite, but rather, concentrates on her hardened exterior that not only ensures her survival, but also allows her to reach retribution through sensual shocks and unparalleled grit.

Despite the charged subject matter centered around politics and power, the complicated plotlines doom the film.”

Dominika must sacrifice her body and her sense of self to appease her vindictive uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is responsible for her entanglement with the Russian government and decision to become a “sparrow,” who is a seductress spy. Though each character is distinct and deeply developed, their individual threads become lost and add to the convoluted plot.

Jarring images of rape, violence and torture leave “Red Sparrow” darkly disproportionate and at times, repetitive. Within the first hour of the film, four people are maliciously murdered. The amount of brutality and killings are incessant, which cheapen their effect as the death toll rises.

Gore aside, other parts of “Red Sparrow” are also tactless. From Jennifer Lawrence’s attempted Russian accent to the provocative nature of the film, which bares numerous full frontals, erotic symbols and graphic sex scenes, “too much” is an understatement.

Though Jennifer Lawrence can embody a strong, defiant and sultry female lead, her many awards fail to acknowledge her ability to fake a Russian accent. Simultaneously overt and underwhelming, Jennifer Lawrence slips in and out of her voice, making Dominika lack the effortless quality that is often associated with slinky Russian spies.

While this aspect of Jennifer Lawrence’s talent (or lack thereof) can be overlooked, the excessive amounts of disorder and brutality in the film cannot. “Red Sparrow” is ambitious in its attempt to create a stimulating thriller, but after every climax, there must be time to recover, which is a concept that Francis Lawrence has yet to grasp.