The worst thing about Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie, Red Sparrow, is her terrible attempt at a Russian accent. The second worst thing is the plot.
Red Sparrow follows Lawrence’s character, Dominika, whose ballet career is cut short when two dancers conspire to break her leg during a performance. Dominika proceeds to murder the two when she finds out the truth, but since ballet was funding her mother’s health care and home, she must find another way to survive. In comes her uncle, a Russian intelligence officer who offers to support her and her mother if Dominika will become a spy. Dominika complies and goes to “Sparrow School,” which she calls “whore school” because the only thing they teach is how to seduce information out of people.
This all seems like an elaborate ploy to get Jennifer Lawrence to take her clothes off.
So, yes, Red Sparrow is all about sexualization and violence and leaves little room for actual substance.
The movie’s tagline is “Seductive. Deceptive. Deadly.” And that’s truly about all there is to it. The plot is supposed to hinge on Dominika finding out who is sharing Russian intelligence with the Americans. But this all seemed like an afterthought behind the violence and sexualized nature of everything surrounding it. There were only a couple of scenes in which the whole idea of finding the “mole” came up, including one in which Dominika works with the Americans to exchange information for cash from a U.S. senator’s chief of staff. This all seemed out of place amid the plethora of things going on in the plot. It was clear that Dominika was being watched by the Russians, which was the best part of the movie in that it provided a solid amount of suspense when she sides with the CIA.
There were also plenty of moments that felt unnecessarily uncomfortable; for instance, when Dominika and her uncle share a more-than-friendly kiss toward the end of the movie, or when she comes home to find her roommate tortured to death in the bathtub. There are two scenes in which Dominika is raped and many more scenes in which people are tortured or murdered. In fact, at the beginning of her spy career a man is murdered while he is raping her. It’s a lot.
Her main role is to seduce an American CIA officer, Nate, though they conspire against the Russians at one point, and one night, when she sleeps at his apartment, she randomly wakes up, goes into the living room where he’s sleeping and asks him, “Do you trust me?” They then proceed to have very unromantic sex.
While there is some credit to be given for not going for the typical built-up all-out sex scene, there’s a reason that type of scene is tried-and-true: The audience loves romance. And the audience did not seem to love the lack of romance within Dominika and Nate’s relationship.
Too many subplots and uncomfortable scenes make for a misguided and messy movie. While all of this does sustain the suspense and anticipation, an exciting movie does not always mean a good one.
Dominika was devoid of passion and emotion, and although that was a part of her character, it wasn’t the type of role Lawrence usually shines in. When she played Rosalyn in American Hustle, or Katniss in The Hunger Games, she exuded emotion and was simultaneously elegant and independent with an edge. Her role as Dominika was entirely edge, which left nothing but that one sharp line.
If Red Sparrow proved anything, it was that stereotypes about Russian spies, and Russian women, are still the default in Hollywood. And, of course, a female spy has to be overly sexualized and yet coldly lethal.
It was no James Bond, that’s for sure.