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There’s more than a hint of deception going on with Red Sparrow. Anyone heading into cinemas this weekend looking for a quick paced action thriller based on the trailers may come out two and a half hours later slightly disappointed.
Instead, this slow burn spy drama at times feels twice its length and the longer it draws on the harder it becomes to find the energy to see things through to the end. Despite the slew of unbelievable twists and turns you are willing to ignore the gaps in logic in the hope it might kick-start some momentum on screen, but the film never manages to escape the shackles placed on it by the laborious pacing.
Jennifer Lawrence teams up once again with The Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence (no relation) to adapt author Jason Matthews novel of the same name. The actress plays the role of Dominika, a Russian ballerina whose career is ruined when her dance partner breaks her leg on stage. With no way to pay her mother Nina’s (Joely Richardson) medical bills and eviction hanging over their head, she is recruited by her shady Uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high ranking officer for the Russian Foreign Intelligence.
Dominika is blackmailed into entering the Sparrow programme, a system that trains agents in the art of sexual warfare, preparing them to use their minds and bodies to manipulate their targets, all in the name of their country. The idea is ridiculous, to say the least, and it requires Lawrence to strip down a number of times as she hones her craft. Meanwhile, American CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton) is in a race against time to find his missing Russian mole and it isn’t long before he is in a will-they-won’t-they tangle with Dominika who has been assigned to seduce him by her Russian masters.
Not only do the American/Russian spy games feel particularly apt but the sexual aggression shown towards Dominika by several men is timely indeed. The problem is that the director’s attempts to empower her character through her own means of manipulation are undermined by the gratuitous exposure of her body. Yes, there are flashes of male nudity on display at times, but Dominika rarely feels as in control as the narrative would like you to believe, leaving the contrivances of the final act sticking out like a sore thumb.
Jennifer Lawrence gives a good enough performance for you to want her character to succeed and handles the always tricky Russian accent better than expected. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast with seasoned performers like Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds all hitting unintentional comedic beats.
Buried within the bloated runtime is a far better film waiting to break out, and for all its faults the intentions of Francis Lawrence seem honourable enough. The conclusion of Red Sparrow readies the story for a sequel, so it remains to be seen how it will fare at the box office come the opening weekend. It’s a film that shows promise, but Red Sparrow mostly feels like it is going through the motions and never finds the right ingredients to fully click into place.