Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons
One of the funnier moments in 2006’s landmark Bond movie Casino Royale was Judi Dench’s M ruefully proclaiming “Christ I miss the Cold War”. Since then, there has been the beginnings of Cold War Paranoias younger sibling, Cold War Nostalgia. From films being set around the Cold War (Watchmen, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Atomic Blonde) or now this, a film that posits the Cold War is still going strong.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a prima ballerina turned spy, trained to use her body and her wits as well as brutal methods that she learnt within the confines of Russian Sparrow School. She meets up with American CIA agent Nathaniel (Joel Edgerton) and things get messy.
Considering how feminist Jennifer Lawrence is often portrayed – a positive reflection on her – and how everyone is currently lambasting sexism in Hollywood, it seems weirdly bizarre that Lawrence would make a film that is fiercely anti-women. From the outset, Red Sparrow is a film that talks about women as only objects, and sexual beings. Lawrence spends the whole film being told what to do, being hit in the face by men, being sexually assaulted, and generally displaying for the audience a lack of control over her situation.
Taking away that this is clearly a poor man’s rip off of Black Widow, Red Sparrow lacks anything on screen that works in an engaging way. The whole ballet thing was done better in Black Swan, and could have been used for kick-ass fight scenes but it’s not, there’s nothing in the film that even hints at an exciting incident coming on the horizon as the film moves between moments.
The cast, by and large, are given very little to do except perform terrible accents. Lawrence can’t keep a grip on which side of the iron curtain she’s from in any given scene, while the forced Russian accents feel like leftovers from Child 44. Charlotte Rampling delivers all lines of dialogue like she just woke up, Ciaran Hinds is wasted as a sinister government type and Jeremy Irons doesn’t get anything exciting to do. Everything comes down to Joel Egerton, who is unable to bring his conflicted spy to life for more than a fleeting moment.
The pace of the film is supposed to be slow burning, and tense, a tribute to Hitchcock thrillers of old so much so that the film’s saving grace the James Newton Howard score keeps breaking out into Bernard Hermann style sounds, but in reality the film is just slow, meandering. Too linear to weave an intricate web of conflicting emotions. It’s brilliantly shot, but the beauty of how the scenes are framed can only carry you so far before you just think it’s a brilliantly shot, boring conversation.
Francis Lawrence hailed for taking on the final three Hunger Games movies goes in the opposite direction here and makes a film that objectifies Jennifer Lawrence every chance, she strips in every other scene, we get multiple shots of her bottom, either unclothed or in underwear. The film’s message boils down to “men are potential rapists, and women are human punch bags”. No woman in the film is allowed off the hook, Lawrence is treated like crap, Joely Richardson is portrayed as weak as a result of her illness, and Charlotte Rampling is just old.
The film moves along at a pace that is supposed to call to mind something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but this is much more boring, there’s no intrigue. This is a thriller without thrills, no tension, and very little interest beyond the fact that it stars an A-list. This comes down to a lack of effort by Lawrence and Lawrence, J Lawrence gives a performance so bland that it’s not a question of wondering if she is allied with the US or the Russians, but wondering if she’s about to fall asleep. F Lawrence just gives up trying to make a film about anything other that Lawrence walking about the place. Despite the 15 age rating and budget put into this film, it is a thundering, disappointment.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.