Red Sparrow
dir Francis Lawrence
scr Justin Haythe
prd Peter Chernin, David Ready, Jenno Topping, Steven Zaillian
with Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Joely Richardson, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Camp, Sakina Jaffrey, Douglas Hodge, Sergei Polunin
release US/UK 2.Mar.18
18/US Fox 2h19
Red Sparrow
Spy vs spy: Lawrence and Edgerton

schoenaerts rampling irons
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Red Sparrow An invested performance by Jennifer Lawrence makes this Russian spy thriller worth a look, even if it's overlong and muddily plotted. This is the story of a strong-minded woman in a male-dominated world. That doesn't quite excuse the film's leery gaze or its obsession with grisly violence. Or some rather corny emotional subplots. So even if the story runs out of steam before its final requisite twist, it's an entertaining ride.

When her high-flying ballet career ends in injury, Dominika (Lawrence) goes to work for her creepy Uncle Vanya (Schoenaerts) to guarantee health care for her ailing mother (Richardson). But this entails becoming a "sparrow", a spy who uses sexual manipulation to discover secrets. After training with the fearsome Matron (Rampling), Domenika heads to Budapest to seduce American agent Nate (Edgerton) and find out who his mole is in the Russian government. But Vanya's bosses (Irons and Hinds) are growing impatient, especially when Domenika heads to London to play the Yanks and Russkies against each other.

Director Francis Lawrence makes everything look terrific, with grand camerawork (by Jo Willems) and snowy locations (mainly Hungary). Set in the present day, it feels like a Cold War thriller as Russian and American spies plot bluffs and counter-bluffs in faded 19th century flats or faded 1970s wood-panelled boardrooms. Once the surprise turns start, they never stop. This means that the audience knows not to trust anything, which eliminates most suspense. But there's still plenty of tension in the personal interaction.

Lawrence skilfully layers Dominika's alertness to remind us that, despite some truly nasty moments, she has the upper hand. This makes her fascinating to watch, and Lawrence beautifully underplays even her more overwhelming emotions. Edgerton does what he can with Nate's thin back-story, and he's fine as Domenika's foil, less interesting as her romantic interest. Supporting roles are even thinner, but Schoenaerts and Irons are enjoyable as over-confident officials. And Rampling is riveting as always in her small role.

But there's just too much plotting to sustain the interest. A tighter, tauter script would carry a stronger kick, ditching the extra sequences that reveal how shallow this film actually is. There are hints at Russia's fake news tactics, but the movie feels oddly old-fashioned, like a script written in the 1980s and only superficially updated. This gives it an air of predictability that undermines the big finale. Still, it definitely works as a showcase for Lawrence's star power.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Mar.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall