Movie Review: ‘Red Sparrow’


Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons

Plot: Dominika Egorova is a talented Russian ballet dancer whose illustrious career is cut short by an injury. In order to provide medical treatment for her mother, Egorova takes on her uncle’s offer to work for the government. This leads Egorova into a complex game of wits and manipulation among spies.

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Review: Word on the street is that Red Sparrow might be the Black Widow movie every Marvel fan has been looking for. Turns out it’s more akin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a spy thriller with content that Disney wouldn’t dare touch.

We’re not just talking about Dragon Tattoo in terms of uncomfortable content, but also thematic. A running motif throughout the film is the dynamic between powerful men and sexualised women. There’s a number of intense, difficult to watch scenes of sexual assault, often between men in positions of power and vulnerable women. The movie never treats this material lightly, however. It’s an integral part of the story and character arc and the audience is always positioned to feel uncomfortable being a viewer to the attack. There’ll be plenty to discuss and dismantle with this one.

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Then there’s the torture. There’s a taste of this in the trailer, with Jennifer Lawrence being doused in freezing water, but that’s a small part of a sequence in which she gets beaten around the face with a stick. It’s an uncompromising film and I will not feel safe around a potato peeler for a while.

Anyway, the film isn’t just rape and torture. It’s actually an intriguing old school spy thriller. There’s no car chases, ticking clocks or martial arts fights. Egorova (Lawrence) is trained in seduction and manipulation and is drawn into a web of control where it’s never clear who she should trust or what side she’s going to wind up on. Much of the character arc is build around Egorova coming to accept her talent in understanding people and using them to her own ends. There’s a line in the film about the Cold War not ending, but ‘shattering into millions of shards’ and this feels like a story from a past era in the best possible way. 

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Francis Lawrence is in the director’s chair, and this is an ambitious and straight-laced project for him. He’s brought a number of major adaptations to the screen with…various results. This is a complex story and it’s sometimes a bit muddled, but overall Lawrence delivers. Red Sparrow falls a few points shy of being a truly great film. It’s uncompromising and a brilliant vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence – again challenging herself as a performer – but drags a few tired cliches into the mix.

By the time of the end credits we were pretty damn satisfied with Red Sparrow. The cast is solid and the Egorova is an intriguing character. The brutal content will put some people off, otherwise it’s worth the price of admission.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN

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