Some movies just leave a bad taste in your mouth. "Red Sparrow" certainly looks tasty but its focus on sexual violence against Jennifer Lawrence’s character is repugnant. 2 stars out of 4.
Some movies just leave a bad taste in your mouth, like a luscious-looking meal that’s just a little off. “Red Sparrow,” based on Jason Matthews’ spy novel, certainly looks tasty: It boasts a prestigious cast, led by Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton and Charlotte Rampling, and it’s filmed with a chilly elegance that sets it apart from most action thrillers. But much as I’d like to love a movie that encompasses ballet, spectacular hotel rooms, a Mary-Louise Parker drunk scene, and Rampling standing grimly in the snow like an unbreakable icicle, the movie’s focus on sexual violence against Lawrence’s character ultimately feels repellent.
Lawrence, speaking in a Russian accent that occasionally wanders across the border, plays Domenika, a dancer with the Bolshoi whose career is abruptly ended by an onstage accident. Worried about how to support her ailing mother, she is coerced by her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) to enter a state-run school that trains young spies in sexual manipulation. “Every human being is a puzzle of need,” says Rampling’s character, the school’s unflinching matron. “Learn how to be the missing piece and they will give you everything.”
Maybe so, but there’s a price to be paid along the way. And “Red Sparrow” shows it to us, all too luridly: violent rape, prolonged torture, forced submission. As Domenika learns to become that missing piece, she closes herself off; Lawrence plays her with a cool deadpan, with only the occasional spark of life. (“You sent me to whore school!” she explodes at her uncle; unfortunately, the line comes off as over-the-top funny.) Her connection with a CIA operative (Edgerton) never feels believable, and ultimately the film drowns in blood. Anyone tired of movies that wallow in the sight of a gifted actress subjected to repeated assault? Me, too.
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★★ “Red Sparrow,” with Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker, Joely Richardson, Ciaran Hinds, Sasha Frolova, Sakina Jeffrey. Directed by Francis Lawrence, from a screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the novel by Jason Matthews. 140 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity. Several theaters.