Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts
Run Time: 2 hours 19 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Hey guys, did you know that when young women grow up, they become sexy? Jennifer Lawrence wasn't a Disney kid so people didn't find her transition quite so jarring, but we're definitely at that point in her career now where "Katniss takes off her shirt for five seconds" is a selling point for a movie, so... do with that what you will, I guess.
Anyway, Red Sparrow!
It might have a color and a bird in the title, but trust me, it's no Black Swan.
In Red Sparrow, Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers a major injury that prevents her from ever being able to dance again. But it doesn't prevent her from f**king, so her creepy uncle Vanya "Not Putin" Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) enlists her against her will in the Sparrow program, which teaches young Russian nationals how to be super-deadly sex spies. She pretty much fails at every lesson, but nepotism, so she's put on an assignment to seduce American agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), whose hilariously alliterative name proves that original novel author Jason Matthews might have real-world experience with these matters, but he's still a pulp writer at heart.
Anyway, she is supposed to seduce the name of a Russian mole out of Nate Nash, but she is attempting to find a way to escape her ties with the Russian government and work with the Americans. Or is she? Because she's still working for Russian interests throughout. Or is she?
And also she gives herself an Atomic Blonde haircut because that's the requirement for female spies in the 2010's.
Or IS it?
Red Sparrow is all over the place, frankly, but some of those places are pretty fun. For one thing, the violence in the film is shockingly R-rated. It pulls some Gone Girl-esque maneuvers to lull you into a false sense of stuffy-movie security before pulling the trigger on some showstopping gore gag or other. It's very gross, and it actually feels like you're watching a movie that 1) is made for adults, and 2) keeps you on your toes. Anything can happen at any time.
Unless that thing is sex. Because as much as it throws itself full steam into its rating when it comes to blood and guts, this movie's approach to sex is about as bold and prurient as a My Little Pony episode. Yes, we see boobs for a bit, and even a brief glimpse of a penis (Equality! We did it!), but I can't recall a single sex scene where both participants were as close to fully clothed as physically possible. And in some cases, it kinda isn't possible, unless they were using her underwear as a prophylactic.
I'm pretty sure they're doing it in this screenshot.
And then you have the problem of not a single person in this movie performing with their actual native accent. It adds a weird sheen of surreality to Red Sparrow that doesn't do it any favors. But while the Russian accents vary from questionable to still-questionable-but-performed-by-Charlotte-Rampling, they are eclipsed by Edgerton's sweaty, faux-American twang. It's not like he hasn't done this sort of thing before, but being generally the only American character in the film, there's nothing to distract from how bizarrely strained he is.
He's still a stud though, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Red Sparrow also takes an incredible risk by being a flat 40 minutes longer than it needs to be, an indulgence it entirely fails to justify. Sometimes you do get wrapped up in the spy movie antics (a montage in the third act provides the kind of pulpy fun you're craving), but mostly it's a wholly average thriller presented with a total lack of flair.
But it's time to bust out those Best Supporting Actress 2019 betting cards though, because twenty minutes of Red Sparrow is rescued by an entirely unlikely heroine: Mary-Louise Parker, playing an American senator's chief-of-staff who is briefly wrapped up in the twisty international affair.
Her character is a boozy, salt-of-the-earth type played with a pitch-perfect ear for campy excess without spilling over the edges of the film. She's acting on an entirely different plane from the rest of the film, and she leaps directly into your face with pure, electric energy. Not since Andie MacDowell prowled her way through Magic Mike XXL has an entire movie been redeemed on the back of one powerful cougar.
Do I recommend the movie? Probably not, but sitting through it wasn't like Russian prison torture. That's about all I can say to vouch for this one, make of that what you will.
TL;DR: Red Sparrow is a totally fine spy thriller with some fun R-rated frills.
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