Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Some people might go into the new spy thriller Red Sparrow thinking of it as the movie that reunites star Jennifer Lawrence with director Francis Lawrence, who directed the final three Hunger Games movies. But to go into it with that mindset would be a huge mistake. Even those going in expecting to find a sleek, sexy spy thriller will find something much more graphic and brutally violent than they might have anticipated. Unfortunately, the extent of the violence in the film distracts from what might have otherwise been a pretty cool spy film.
Jennifer Lawrence adds a believable accent to play Dominika Egorova, the ballerina niece of a high-ranking Russian intelligence official. When her career is suddenly stopped short, leaving her unable to pay for her mother’s medical care, Dominika agrees to her uncle’s offer to seduce an enemy of the state for information. But when that mission’s endgame turns out to be much different than she was led to believe, she is left as a witness to a crime that could have no witnesses. Not wishing ill upon his niece, her uncle gives her a choice: die or become a “Sparrow.”
Sparrows are agents within the Russian intelligence community with a specific skill set: seduction. Dominika is sent to “whore school,” as she calls it, where she is trained not just as a soldier and a spy, but a seductress capable of giving her targets whatever they most desire as a way of disarming them and getting from them what her agency desires. Her first mission upon completing her training is to discover the identity of a mole within the Russian government by getting close to his last known contact, an American agent named Nate Nash. She makes contact with Nash, who is not fooled into thinking she is anything but an agent. He tries to turn her to his side, but given her training, there is no way he could possibly know for sure whether she will go along or eventually betray him.
Like the other characters she meets in the film, the audience is kept mostly in the dark about where Dominika’s loyalties lie. When she appears to be completing her assigned mission, we suspect she is a double agent. When she is clearly acting as a double agent, we suspect she may be a triple agent. It becomes so impossible to tell whose side she is on that eventually the audience must simply allow the movie to take us where it wants to go. We see her take certain actions, but her true intention with these actions is never fully revealed until the end of the movie. This certainly adds a level of suspense and mystery, but despite all the confusion over her loyalties, the movie somehow still manages to end up in what seemed from the beginning to be the most obvious destination.
The intrigue of the plot is exactly what you want in a spy thriller, but where this movie goes off the rails is the brutally graphic depiction of rape and torture that is prevalent throughout much of the film. The movie does not pull any punches in its depiction of the sex and violence that exists within this spy world; and that would be fine, but it goes to such extremes that we as an audience often feel like we wandered into a torture porn film instead of a spy thriller. Many of the scenes are cringe-worthy and not fun or enjoyable in the slightest. In fact, they made me want to look away from the screen rather than keep my eyes glued to it. Jennifer Lawrence was also in a movie last year that was featured a lot of disturbing content, but while the harrowing scenes in mother! had an environmental purpose and/or biblical basis behind them, the most horrifying scenes in Red Sparrow felt as if they were grotesque simply for the sake of being grotesque.
Red Sparrow has a top-notch cast, flanking Lawrence with such talent as Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, and Matthias Schoenaerts. Every one of these performers is at the top of their game and I feel like the movie could have been an incredibly entertaining spy thriller had it just pulled back on the brutality a little bit. Even simply trimming these scenes and bringing the runtime down from its lengthy 139 minutes could have made it more bearable.
There is a cool spy thriller buried within the ultra-violence of Red Sparrow, but unfortunately that side of the movie is overshadowed by the rest that leaves an impression like a hammer to the back of the head. The bottom line is that I never felt like I was enjoying Red Sparrow. And why do we go to a spy thriller if not to enjoy it?
Red Sparrow is now playing at the AMC Kent Station 14, AMC Southcenter 16, Century Federal Way, and Renton Landing 14.
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