“Female spies typically represented one of two extremes: the seductress who employed her wiles to manipulate men, and the cross-dresser who blended in by impersonating them.” – Karen Abbott
The Cold War may have ended but the battle still rages on within dark hallways and down desolate alleys and behind closed doors. In many ways this type of warfare is more terrifying than outright gun battles as it requires not only skills in self defense and weaponry but in the art of secrecy and discretion. It requires a kind of discipline that will ultimately determine a person’s lifespan in such a ruthless profession as espionage. Failure is rampant and the most likely outcome and yet if a spy does fail they are seen as treasonous and killed as a traitor. This way of life is vile and requires a person to lose every sense of who they are and what they care about beyond the mission itself. In the case of the Sparrows, they are no longer human but rather they are sexual weaponry in defense of the State, aka Russia.
Red Sparrow takes places in Russia and it feels very much like everyone there has decided they like the 80’s far too much to leave them, so they didn’t. They never got the memo that it’s 2018. The technology might be up to date but the tactics are old and for them well worn. Jennifer Lawrence stars as a potential Sparrow navigating the treacherous training of becoming a walking talking weapon. She conveys powerfully the fall of a once famous ballerina into a Sparrow who has lost everything she knows about herself. Her dignity and personal privacy are no longer allowed. She is to give herself to the mission, whatever mission is at hand and must complete it making any and all sacrifices necessary. Lawrence maintains a sense of strength but it’s at the cost of her very identity as she only does what she must to survive.
A Sparrow as we learn is an agent of sorts that is tasked with using seduction to obtain their mission goals. This means sexual persuasion and manipulation when and wherever. Lawrence’s character wrestles with staying alive and keeping any bit of herself still intact. Even as they force her to strip all sense of self away she grasps hold at risk of losing her life. She finds it very difficult to find the desire to live but to live at the cost of her life not being her own. Can she maintain her sense of humanity despite living in such a detrimental state of constant life and death?
As she begins to adapt she is tasked with a mission that requires her to manipulate a CIA agent played by Joel Edgerton. As she gets to know him her loyalties to her country begin to sway and change by the day. She knows his goals and wants more than anything to survive her captivity as a Sparrow and bring her sickly mother along in whatever manner is required. She believes he may be the ticket to freedom but the finish line is blocked by angry, trained, frigid Russian spies who suspect pretty much everyone of betrayal. However she still fears an agreement with the Americans because it appears nothing is different for them so where is the incentive to turn?
Outright I would say this is an enjoyable film and detailed look into the world of spies and espionage. The biggest problem I have is with the pacing, more specifically the lengths of each scene can sometimes run a bit long. Certain information can be given quickly and moved on from but with Red Sparrow the decision was made to stick with it every time, whatever it may be. And at a runtime of 139 minutes these stretched out scenes can drag the pace down exponentially. Beyond this though the story is tense with tremendous performances particularly Lawrence and Edgerton. They play and trade places of the cat and mouse as they use one another to complete their respective missions and do so with bravado.
Francis Lawrence, director of Red Sparrow and previous films such as Constantine, I Am Legend and several others first started out as a music video director. Since music envelopes all sound in a music video the most important job for a music video director are the visuals. Whatever the quality of his films are there is no question he has transferred his visual style from videos to films. His movies are gorgeous and Red Sparrow is no exception. The visual command of colors and wide shots give a sense of confidence and assurance that what happens next will be beautifully captured. The exterior scenes feel cold and isolated and the interior shots feel elegant and grandiose. That is unless it’s a torture scene in which case the grime and grimace of the brutality is captured fearlessly as it shows pretty much everything no matter the level of violence or revealing moments of a sexually driven scene.
Make no mistake this is a slow burning spy thriller made for adults. The violence is scarce but undeniably savage and jarring. This is very much a sexually driven plot and so those scenes are plentiful and graphic; not to mention they can be awkward for some and probably (in this day and age of being professionally offended) a bit put off by such visceral sex scenes. And when I call some of these scenes “sex scenes” I’m putting it gently as these scenes feature moments of rape, public sexual intercourse and more in your face moments of outright nudity and the overall uglier side of sexual desire. Their weapon is sexuality and the act itself and so you can’t expect those scenes to be anything close to tame.
Red Sparrow is at times entirely too slow and dependent on needless moments and could have lost about twenty minutes and been a better film for it. The trust no-one storyline that is ingrained into every spy film can become confusing not because it’s too complicated or intricate but rather they simply keep you at bay for no other reason than to reveal the big mystery in the final moments of the film. There’s no moments to look back on and say that was a clue. Because of this the film isn’t allowed any “aha” moments of sudden clarity. It all plays out at a distance keeping us away until the last minutes of the film. Beyond its shortcomings I believe this to be a viable spy thriller, a brutal glimpse into the inhumane treatment of the agents involved and it’s a wonderful showcase of powerful acting and tremendous visual eye candy. And if you’re wondering, she does… you know what I’m talking about. Perv. 😉
Rated R For: strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
Runtime: 139 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 4/ Directing: 4/ Visuals: 4.5
OVERALL: 4 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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