This film is all bags full of problematic. Perhaps more than any other recent actress Lawrence epitomises the new wave of strong women in cinema. Other are better actors (Blanchett) or more prominently feminist (Chastain), but none have the iconic role that was Katniss. I admire her willingness to take on challenging films since then – she could have played kick-ass women for the rest of her career. But after Passengers and Mother! it seems as if she is deliberately goading, or at least challenging, conventional feminist criticism. Perhaps she doesn’t care, or realise, but I sense it’s a struggle to claim her own identity. Like a child star who takes on raunchy roles to emphatically shed the predetermined image people have formed, having played the definitive female action hero of the past decade, she now has to take on roles that are, at least, questionable. Whereas most actresses are heading towards a role like Katniss, she’s heading away from it.
And thus we come to Red Sparrow, which perfectly reflects this tension in her persona. Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a ballet dancer who suffers a career ending injury. She takes her revenge for this, and gets recruited to Sparrow school, the nasty Russian spy training camp, where contrary to the advice of Ms Benatar, they are taught that sex is very much a weapon. From here we get a number of violent scenes, which if done by a male actor we’d call gritty. But there are some very uncomfortable sex scenes, near rapes, and forced compliance. Arguably this is making a feminist historical statement – sex is as legitimate a weapon as violence, and this has been written out of much of history. But then, Dominika is forced into it and reluctant, unlike an action hero.
In truth even without these considerable reservations, it is not Lawrence’s best work. She seems to believe that Russians don’t have facial movement, and goes all Tom Hardy on the accent front. Perhaps most unforgivably, it’s just quite boring.
Lawrence remains something of an enigma – sometimes her film selection seems to be based on “does it objectify me? If so, I’m in” (or at least “is there a sexy swimwear scene?”). But perhaps she is she using her status to make us uncomfortable, to push what is acceptable for an A lister? If the latter then Red Sparrow has too many problems, too many ambiguities. But maybe that’s her point – to shine a light on the ambiguities. It’s just not very good.