Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame, adapted by Justin Haythe from Jason Matthews’ novel, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Taron Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, & Charlotte Rampling makes for a spy thriller that’s hard to really like, but also one that doesn’t have much to lash with criticism.
It’s one of the kind of films that prevent greater quality by being too conventional when it comes to using the language of film direction. There’s less to dislike, but not much that provides to the identity of the film itself, which is a kind of short-coming, because the adapted story itself is quite compelling, and as are the performances on a relative note.
Regardless, compared to most of the other recent spy thrillers, “Red Sparrow” is not that uninspired or flawed, and if the adapted narrative itself is brought into the discussion, it’s an unusual and different example of its genre.
Without further ado, here’s a more detailed overview of “Red Sparrow”.
Story, Setting, and Characters
While you would typically expect a spy thriller to be all guns and ass-kicking, “Red Sparrow” has an altering approach to espionage, with more sexual persuasiveness of the targets than going jiu-jitsu on them. So even though it may in spirit be similar to a recent thriller like Charlize Theron’s 2017 starrer “Atomic Blonde”, the two films use completely different weapons. Make no mistake, it’s still rough and explicit, just that it uses different means to arrive to those conclusions.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Eregova, a ballerina star in the Bolshoi, who experiences the fall of her career due to a harsh injury. To be of support to her sick mother, she struggles to find an alternative career, that is before she’s recruited by her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) in the Russian intelligence service, and engages in her first espionage.
Vanya is then sent by the service to the secretive Sparrow School, which is run by a grumpy matron (Charlotte Rampling) and is a place where young men and women are taught ways of using sexual appeal and seduction for their spy campaigns.
Things shake up eventually as Dominika meets Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), a CIA operative that aims to go back to Moscow after a mole-contacting mission gone wrong. Dominika’s allegiance, and even that of some other central characters, is brought to question after the two find themselves romancing. The only solution to the dilemma, as seen by Nate, is for Dominika herself to become a double agent.
Lawrence’s performance, besides the almost stereotypical Russian accent (which could just as well be a creative choice), is a stand-out. She captures the intelligence, sensuality, sass, and most importantly, the empowerment of Dominika remarkably. Edgerton doesn’t keep up much with Lawrence when it comes to the strength of the performance, but their chemistry is fitting enough.
“Red Sparrow” is appreciably directed, albeit without unique quality. The film is nearly 2 and a half-hour long, but the adapted screenplay provides little time to what it promised as the most interesting sub-story; the Sparrow School. And it’s not that it fails at adapting the Jason Matthews novel, but that it could’ve been better, and more memorable. Regardless, the problems aren’t exactly shortcomings.
Cinematography, Music, and Production
The cinematography is among the major aspects that prevent “Red Sparrow” itself from being a stand-out or having any visual prominence. Jo Willems’ cinematography doesn’t have any major flaws per se, but it doesn’t offer a unique aesthetic identity to the film. The color palette consists of little variety too and could’ve been utilized to capture the story, instead of the setting better.
James Newton Howard’s music score serves the theme of the film pretty well, despite there being very little to consider highly memorable, but regardless, it’s not without nuance either.
“Red Sparrow” was shot primarily in different cities of Hungary, more specifically Budapest, Dunaújváros, and Dég. Some scenes were filmed in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Vienna, Austria. The film’s production design served it well and was among the more prominently executed aspects of it. It reflects the nature of the film compatibly.
“Red Sparrow” makes for a worthwhile ‘sexpionage’ thriller, that features immersive (but not often explored) lore, and an engaging narrative, which is boosted further by Jennifer Lawrence’s nearly perfect performance, and held back only by the conventionality of its screenplay and visual styles.