When a spy flick is set against the backdrop of a Russia where the Cold War never really ended, you expect a degree of bleakness. But as cold as both the weather and the Russian characters are, you would think that the sex scenes between the leads would deliver some heat. Not in Red Sparrow.
Just to be clear, by ‘worst’ I mean bad sex. It’s important to clarify, because Red Sparrow features sexual assault in multiple scenes, and I’m not implying that boring sex is somehow worse than rape. This is just calling out the consensual sex between the two protagonists.
The film centers around former prima ballerina Domninika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who is forced into Sparrow School after a career ending injury, where she learns to use her body and mind as a weapon for the Russian government.
Whilst on assignment to discover a Russian mole, she becomes increasingly disillusioned with her government. This leads her into the arms of CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who hopes to turn her into a double agent. Throughout the movie you’re left to question whether what they have is real and where Dominika’s allegiance truly lies.
I’ve read the book, so my expectations were always going to be slightly skewed. But I’m also a realist. Movies need to change and cut things to fit a different medium. They certainly don’t have the luxury of 300 pages to establish characterisation and connection.
If you’re after a spy flick that you can just wind down to and not think too much about – this may not be a problem. There is certainly enough action to fill the gaps and Jennifer Lawrence does a beautiful job at portraying the icy Dominika. Plus, the sets and costumes are stunning.
But I haven’t seen such a lack of chemistry or motivation between two love interests on screen in a long time.
They were boring.
Whilst the book equally distributes the story time between the Dominika and Nate before their tales entwine – there is more of a focus on Dominika in the film. This makes sense – her backstory is more interesting, dark and intricate.
And considering that her character has her dignity and agency both figuratively and literally stripped from her regularly by the men in her life, I’m glad that some emphasis is placed on her.
However, we also get next to nothing about the character of Nate. We know that he’s a federal agent and swims sometimes. That’s about it. He is utterly devoid of character and the audience is given no credible explanation as to why Dominika feels a connection with him. Besides finding his smile dazzling.
Part of the problem here is that the book places significant empathise on Dominika possessing a kind of synesthesia adjacent ability. She sees colours above people’s heads and can subsequently read their characters and motivations. A bit of a cheesy plot device but it’s an airport spy novel, so I’m happy to let that slide.
Not only does Dominika see Nate as a trustworthy purple (the same colour as her father), the two spend months casing each other as agents and developing a slow burn friendship that culminates in a sexual encounter. It makes sense.
In the film, we are given two government agents who are barely on screen together and may be risking their lives for each other for no logical reason. With this in mind, perhaps its apt that the initial sex scene between the two is so devoid of anything resembling chemistry or intimacy.
Here’s how it goes down.
Dominika spends the night at Nate’s. She stays in his bed and he sleeps on the couch. Sometime during the night she approaches and mounts him, both fully clothed. The scene lasts about 10 seconds and consists of some awkward rocking that neither of them seem particularly into.
Zero chemistry. Zero sex appeal.
Don’t get me wrong. Fully clothed sex can be sexy. This was not.
Edgerton in particular seems barely present. I honestly couldn’t tell you if his character was enjoying the interaction or not. It was like watching a cardboard cutout.
The only thing interesting about this scene (besides questioning why they bothered with it) was that Nate didn’t seem to orgasm. It’s good to show sexual interactions in a mainstream film where it isn’t all about a guy achieving orgasm. That’s an important conversation to be having.
However, in this case it just added to the strangeness of the scene and reinforced the glaring lack of connection between two people we are supposed to believe would risk everything for each other.
I’m all for suspending reality when it comes to spy and action films. But when you can’t believe in the motivations of two characters who are so serious throughout the film, it can take away from the experience or the ability to go all in on the plot.