Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives at Goldstone, a small town in the Australian outback, to investigate the whereabouts of a missing Chinese girl. Standing in his way are Josh (Alex Russell), Goldstone's sheriff, Mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver), and Johnny (David Wenham), the foreman of the town's goldmine. Johnny happens to be involved in a relationship with Maureen.
The screenplay by writer/director Ivan Sen checks off most of the cliches that tend to be found in crime thrillers set in small towns in the middle of nowhere. A corrupt mayor? Check! A corrupt sheriff? Check! Beautiful scenery? Check! A drunk investigator with a troubled past? Check! A town with a dirty secret? Check! A lengthy shoot-out during the third act? Check! There's nothing inherently wrong with the use of cliches; what matters is how they're used. Unfortunately, Sen uses them in a way that's contrived with poorly developed subplots that makes the film concurrently overstuffed and undercooked. Very little feels organic when it comes to the relationships, and there aren't any palpable thrills. It's hard to be emotionally invested with any of the characters because of the stilted, shallow, nuance-free dialogue. None of the actors manage to rise above the weak screenplay, although the talented Jacki Weaver almost succeeds at it while channeling her much more true-to-life malevolent character from Animal Kingdom.
The best aspect of Goldstone is the outback landscape which becomes a character in itself. Bird-eye view shots add some scope to the film, but it doesn't help to cure the lethargy that begins to seep in around the hour mark. If the editing were tighter, the screenplay more organic, the characters more developed, and the plot leaner with a shorter running time instead of 110 minutes, Goldstone would've been much more powerful experience rather than being mildly engaging, underwhelming and forgettable.
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a prima ballerina living with her mother in Russia, suffers a serious foot injury that puts an end to her career in ballet. Her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), persuades her to join the Sparrow School where the school's matron (Charlotte Rampling) teaches her how to use her body to seduce Russia's enemies. She's soon given a new assignment using her skills as a sparrow: to seduce C.I.A. agent, Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), in hopes of finding the identity of a mole within the Foreign Intelligence Service. What lengths will Dominika take to succeed in her mission? Are her romantic feelings for Nathaniel genuine or just part of her act as a "sparrow"? Hakuna matata: none of the answers to those questions will be spoiled here.
Not since Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo has there been such a strong femme fatale as Dominika in Red Sparrow. She's a character who's fleshed out
enough as a human being to allow you to root for her whenever she kicks ass against her abusers. In this
case, those abusers happen to be perverted men. Red Sparrow arrives at just the right time during
the #MeToo movement to serve as a form of much-needed catharsis. It's a rousing crime thriller with edge-of-
year-seat suspense. The screenplay by Justin Haythe weaves a complex, but not too complicated
nor exausting plot. Fortunately, Red Sparrow isn't nearly as convoluted and dry as the
slow-burning espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy nor as asinine and shallow as the action-packed Atomic Blonde.
If you haven't read the novel by Jason Matthews, that's probably good
because you'll find the twists and turns to be much more surprising. The third act does lose a
little bit of steam, though, because it spoon-feeds the audience a lot of key information in a
way that feels contrived. Although the screenplay forgoes realism to merely move the plot forward during those scenes, that's a minor, forgivable flaw that doesn't make the film any less captivating. Even at a
running time of 2 hour and 19 minutes, the Red Sparrow flies by, for the most part, with slick editing whiling
hooks you with its compelling characters and an intriguing story made for an audience that Hollywood seldomly caters to these days: adults.
Red Sparrow's true heart and soul can be found in Jennifer Lawrence's
performance. She not only looks ravishing throughout the film, but also convincingly captures
the emotional complexity of her role. David O. Russell hit the nail on the head when he once
stated that Jennifer Lawrence is reminiscent of the Golden Age actress Carole Lombard. The
supporting actors, namely, the underrated Matthias Schoenaerts and the talented Charlotte Rampling,
make the most out of their roles. Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, and Mary-Louise Parker also get
their own chance to shine onscreen. Overall, Lawrence's moving performance somewhat compensates for
the screenplay's lack of emotional grit. The grit that you will come across, though, is that of the
more visceral kind: unflinching sex and violence. Director Francis Lawrence leaves very little
to the audience's imagination by showing plenty of unflinching nudity and gore, so if you're
prude or squeamish, this film probably won't be your cup of tea. If you loved The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo, you'll also love Red Sparrow.