Red Sparrow





JLaw's latest is a Cold War thriller that manages to be both genuinely unpleasant and dull.


Red Sparrow 

Death in Vienna: Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Lawrence


Oh, why, Jennifer, why? Following an astonishing cinematic trajectory from Winter’s Bone (2010) to last year’s Mother! – via an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook – Jennifer Lawrence ends up in Moscow with a black eye. She has a black eye – and worse – because she’s been pummelled, raped, beaten, tortured and slashed with a knife while managing to retain a pretty persuasive Russian accent. She also takes her clothes off with the frequency of a young Nicole Kidman and spent four months learning to dance like a Bolshoi ballerina. And, if she’s not disrobing, she’s being forcibly stripped by others in this Cold War spy thriller that recalls the worst of previous Hollywood efforts Gorky Park and The Russia House.


It’s the sort of movie in which a character pops into Budapest on his way to Vienna in order to have an unannounced five-minute chat with his niece. Lucky she was in when he called. Then two operatives – who are not meant to be in contact with each other – make out in front of a window facing the street. And every time a well-known British face turns up with a Russian accent, it’s hard to suppress a giggle. Only the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts looks genuinely Russian, if only for a startling resemblance to Vladimir Putin. Yet it’s all terribly low-key, as if straining for a mien of credibility, à la John le Carré. But it’s more comatose than understated. One craves for a Bourne-like injection of kick-ass vitality, if only to alleviate the endless whispering and clandestine encounters. After the cosmopolitan authenticity of TV’s McMafia, it feels as legitimate as a Russian athlete.


JLaw plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who is persuaded by her seedy uncle (Schoenaerts) to work for the Russian Intelligence, in order to finance the medical demands of her ailing mother (Joely Richardson). And so she’s sent off to “whore school” (her words) – run by a draconian Charlotte Rampling – in order to become a ‘red sparrow’, a secret agent trained to use her physical wiles to seduce a potential target. And so the plot chugs into gear, involving a liaison with a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who has a mole in the Kremlin. In fact, there’s an awful lot of narrative in Red Sparrow, but not a jot of it rings true.


It’s difficult to comprehend what Jennifer Lawrence saw in the part, other than to build on her professional rapport with Francis Lawrence, who directed her in the last three Hunger Games films. She certainly gives it her all, submitting herself to a series of highly unpleasant and humiliating torture scenes. Sadly, though, the film hardly merits her commitment.




Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Thekla Reuten, Douglas Hodge, Sakina Jaffrey, Sergei Polunin, Sasha Frolova, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Hugh Quarshie.


Dir Francis Lawrence, Pro Peter Chernin, Steven Zaillian, Jenno Topping and David Ready, Screenplay Justin Haythe, from the novel by Jason Matthews, Ph Jo Willems, Pro Des Maria Djurkovic, Ed Alan Edward Bell, Music James Newton Howard, Costumes Trish Summerville.


TSG Entertainment/Chernin Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

139 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 1 March 2015. Cert. 15.