- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS A Russian ballerina turned spy is dispatched to find the mole who is colluding with the CIA.
Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton
This sometimes tense, sometimes trashy, sometimes silly psycho-sexual political thriller with one or two hits of gratuitous violence distils the spirit of Paul Verhoeven for a new generation. It’s straight out of the 80’s song book for its ‘high-concept’ approach to espionage, and for its hi-gloss sheen. It’s also the kind of film that sits on a knife edge - not good enough to be great, not bad enough to be deliciously awful.
Wobbly accents are only a part of the problem: convincing yourself that Jennifer Lawrence, Matthias Schoenaerts or Charlotte Rampling are Russian is not made any easier by convoluted plotting that can only ever go one way. Helping neutralise credibility problems, director Francis Lawrence does a deft job at distracting us with a pervy exotica and is helped admirably by Lawrence, Schoenaerts and Joel Edgerton as a CIA agent leading the charge.
A sparrow is an agent of Russia’s secret service, stunning women who use whatever charms necessary to snare their prey. Dominika (Lawrence) is pressed into duty by her uncle (Schoenaerts) to root out a government mole who is colluding with the CIA. Cats and mice abound as the story travels from Moscow to London, Budapest, Washington and back. No one is who they say they are, no one is safe from the long arm of Russia’s violent underbelly (skin-peeling anyone?) So who is doing who, and are we being had as well?
And there the pleasure, or the pain, of RED SPARROW; a film that thinks itself seductive (which it is albeit shackled to unapologetic sexploitation) and clever (which it isn’t, just tricksy). The pleasure is in the borderline shlock value, the pain in the extraordinary nastiness that permeates the story - psychologically and physically. How much you enjoy all this depends entirely on your taste for either extreme, and whether RED SPARROW is, in the end, extreme enough; more than just another Verhoeven-esque, BASIC INSTINCT inspired cock-tease?