Red Sparrow (2018) Review
A FLIGHTLESS BIRD
Actress Jennifer Lawrence has definitely made a name for herself in recent Hollywood. Before she became a “household” name in celebrity movie stars, the then unknown Lawrence starred in several TV shows episodes like Cold Cases, Medium, and The Bill Engvall Show. Lawrence eventually landed her role as Raven / Mystique in 2011’s superhero blockbuster X-Men: First Class (a role that she reprised again in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse), which gave her the recognition within a main lead role. However, her big “break-out” role came in 2012 when she landed the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (a four-feature film franchise that was based on the popular teen dystopian bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins). This proved that Lawrence was capable of handling herself in a lead role (she would continue playing the role of Katniss in the sequential Hunger Games sequels) and was offered more leading roles, including the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook in which she starred alongside actor Bradly Cooper. With this film, Lawrence did win an academy award in the Best Actress category that year, allowing her access into the ranks of the upper echelon of Hollywood. From there, Lawrence appeared in other films like the crime drama American Hustle, the Depression-era drama Serena, the comedy-drama Joy, the sci-fi romance feature Passenger, and her latest endeavor (of writing this review) is the psycho / horror movie Mother!. Now, 20th Century Fox (as well as TSG Entertainment) and director Francis Lawrence present actress Jennifer Lawrence’s newest film with the movie Red Sparrow. Is this espionage thriller another hit for Lawrence in her career or does she flounder within this deadly spy drama?
Dominika Egorovoa (Jennifer Lawrence) is a celebrated Russian ballerina and prominent star with the Bolshoi. Unfortunately, her career is cut tragically short when she suffers a terrible injury during a performance. Facing an uncertain future and determined to provide continued care for her ill mother Nina (Joely Richardson), Dominika is persuaded by her shady uncle Ivan Dimitrevich Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is the First Deputy Director of the SVR, into performing a dubious task; one that leads to being a person murdered, with Dominika the only witness to the Russian government’s deadly crime. Realizing that she has no real choice in the matter, Dominika is then forced by her uncle into attending Sparrow School: a Russian intelligence program that trains young people in the art of seduction (using their minds and bodies as weapons to extract information from individuals). When it turns out that Dominika has a talent for this dangerous line of work, she is recruited by the government to carry out a top priority mission: to make contact with and seduce a CIA operative named Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), in order to manipulate him into revealing of his informant within the Russian secret service (code named: Marble). However, Dominika soon finds out that everyone has secrets and agendas and that she must try to stay one step ahead of everyone in the espionage game is playing if, if she wants to make it out of this operation alive.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It goes without saying that I do like Jennifer Lawrence. While she’s not the gifted or seasoned actress in Hollywood, she still has proven herself capable of handling in popular movies in both supporting and lead roles. Perhaps my first introduction to her was in X-Men: First Class as Raven / Mystique; a role that I liked her in and continue to like her in the follow-up X-Men sequels. Heck, she’s even back reprising the role in the new one X-Men: Dark Phoenix (due out later this year). Naturally, Lawrence’s big role in The Hunger Games movies was what made her big in the mainstream audience viewers, playing Katniss Everdeen and effectively leading the charge against the “Capitol” and their tyrannical rule over the fictional dystopian world of Panem. While I did like as Katniss in The Hunger Games films, her role in Silver Linings Playbook was the won that propelled her into the more “juicer” roles as well as becoming a more prominent member amongst Hollywood celebrity stardom (a desire that many young actors / actresses hope to achieve). I did like her Silver Linings Playbook, but a lot of her other films were hit or miss with me. I mean, I liked her Serena (again teaming up alongside actor Bradley Cooper) as well as Passengers (starring alongside actor Chris Pratt), but I didn’t like her in Joy (as well as the entire film itself) and American Hustle, while I do praise the film for its star-studded cast, the movie itself was pretty “meh” and I personally didn’t think Jennifer Lawrence’s role in the film was noteworthy enough to be nominated for an Academy Award in that film. I didn’t see Mother!, but I heard a lot about the controversy that surrounds it, which makes that much more curious to see the film. Still, Lawrence is sure a risen star as one of the young and upcoming generation in Hollywood.
Now, actress Jennifer Lawrence heads into her new role within the spy / espionage genre with the film Red Sparrow. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much internet buzz about this movie (mostly due to all the news and press about Mother!), but I do remember seeing the film’s two trailers every so often when I went to my weekly movie outings. I was quite intrigued by it as it’s premise seemed interesting as a cinematic tale within the world of modern spy thrillers. Plus, the cast, which included Lawrence, Edgerton, Irons, and few others, caught my attention for what presumed to be a well-rounded feature. Thus, this peaked my interest to see Red Sparrow as I saw it during it’s opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, I was quite disappointed with it. Despite the talented cast and the film’s solid source material, Red Sparrow is pretty much a lackluster endeavor. It’s tried and true spy-thriller, but is bland, shallow, and cold to the touch.
Red Sparrow is directed by Francis Lawrence, who’s previous directorial works include I am Legend, Water for Elephants as well as three out of the four Hunger Games films (i.e. Catching Fire and Mockingjay: Part 1 and Part 2). Given his wide range of films he’s doing in the past, Lawrence seems like a good fit for Red Sparrow (on paper at least), approaching the material for the feature with the expectation of spy-thriller that would be rich in espionage nuances, characters moments, and dubious double-crossing with covert ops missions, deadly assassinations, and hardening of making “weapon” out of a former Russian ballerina. To be truthful, Lawrence gives Red Sparrow a sort of “David Finch” directorial style in both tone and feel throughout the entire presentation, which is kind of a good thing (for the most part anyway), building up suspense and tension as well as some gruesome scenes of violent tortures. If I what to place the film against similar movies, I would say that Red Sparrow is mash-up of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and one of David Finch’s film projects (kind of like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Additionally, Red Sparrow is based off of the book of the same name by fiction author Jason Matthews. Thus, the story being told in the movie has a credible source material, which handled by Justin Haythe in penning the film’s script. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to read Matthew’s book, so I really can’t speak of what was add, removed, or changed from page to screen. Suffice to say, I think Haythe does get the basic fundamentals story / plot beats from Matthew’s novel, making Dominika’s journey from prized Bolshoi ballerina to deadly Sparrow seductress. It’s quite an interesting story, showcasing the somewhat “human condition” of what an individual must do in order to survive. This is especially true through the cinematic lens of an espionage thriller where cover ops and spies with hidden agendas are around every turn. And, of course, you have through in the classic tension between USA and Russia as all of this juxtaposes against Dominika’s story and how she becomes entangled in them all.
In the technical category, Red Sparrow does have few positives that make the film shine on-screen. It’s color palette is a good, keeping up the ambiguous and dreary sense through a lot of scenes (mostly the ones in Russia), but there are few moments that colorful and bright, especially the ones found in the Bolshoi ballerina scenes. This also extends to the film’s cinematographer, which credit must be given to Jo Willems, for his impressive work of lighting and unique camera angles. The other filmmaking categories are well-represented in the film, including costumes (by Trish Summerville), film editing (by Allan Edward Bell), production design (by Maria Djurkovic), and musical score (composed by James Newton Howard). Thus, despite the film’s many flaws (read below for that), Red Sparrow does (on a technical filmmaking level) looks cinematically shiny.
That being said, Red Sparrow does have a lot of problems, which drags the movie done from being a truly standout feature. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the movie is lacks substantial substance and depth within its narrative. While Matthew’s novel proves to be a gripping story as a source material for the film, the movie’s narrative seems to…. for lack of a better word…. boring. The story is there and there’s plenty of espionage / spy nuances, but it all just seem pretty shallow as if Lawrence (and Haythe) barely scratch the surface of Matthew’s source material. This means that the film is (for the most part) unappealing, leaving a lot of pacing issues and not fully exploring certain ideas and plot / character points for us (the viewers) to try to circumnavigate through in meekly fashion. An example of this was the aspect of the whole “Sparrow” institutional training. It’s kind of interesting concept (i.e. using a person’s body as way of seduction to extract information), but the movie only briefly skims by Dominika’s actual training to become a Sparrow. To be honest, I really wanted to see more, especially since Dominika’s wasn’t really “trained” for the program to begin with and the side character of Matron was pretty cool. Still, the whole “Sparrow” school could’ve been much more develop, showcasing the true transformation of Dominika from former ballerina to deadly Sparrow. Sadly, the movie just gives us the bare minimum and that’s disappointing.
Coinciding with that, the rest of the film isn’t that all engrossing as it wants to be, following Dominika through her mission of trying to woo Nate Nash and find out who his contact (aka Marble) is. Again, the film’s slow pacing and predictable movements doesn’t help, making the Red Sparrow bland and cold to the touch. The film’ script itself is pretty vanilla, calling upon a lot of classic espionage troupe that really don’t feel fresh or creative, but rather just simply recycled and weak parodies of them (i.e. dubious Russian members of high-ranking, torture scenes, untrustworthy individuals, etc.). It’s all well and good, but Red Sparrow does so in a lackadaisical manner; never really challenge itself (the film) or feeling truly gripping entertainment. You can literally feel the plot twists and turns coming and can clearly guess who Dominika is gonna get revenge on (if you know what I mean) before the film’s ending. Additionally, while film does have a taste of David Finch style of filmmaking (as I mentioned above), Red Sparrow tries too hard to “gruesome” and “hard-hitting” within some of its sexual content scenes and violent torture scenes. Again, it’s effective, but the movie tries too hard into proving that point, which it shouldn’t as if Lawrence is trying to cover up his film’s problematic narrative with a lot of “shock and awe” moments.
Another problem is that the film is long and I mean wayyyyy long. With a running time of two hours and twenty minutes long, Red Sparrow is stretched to it limits with a lot “filler”-esque scenes to keep the film moving. This could be extended sequences of brutal violence or scenes for dramatic poise and cinematic purposes. Heck, the movie’s opening scene is elongated and setting up events. Unfortunately, the film’s slow-burner pacing doesn’t help this as the runtime really does feel the whole two hours and twenty minutes, which doesn’t help the overall appeal of the feature. Event the film’s ending seems to go on forever and ever and tries to wrap everything up, but takes too long to get there (i.e. that feeling of having multiple endings).
The cast in Red Sparrow is a talented group of selected actors and actresses, but (for the most part) are underserved by the film’s script of lacking substance depth within their respective characters in the narrative. At the front of the group of which the movie spends most of its camera time is actress Jennifer Lawrence who plays the film’s lead character Dominika Egorovoa. As I stated in the opening paragraph, Lawrence has proven herself capable of handling the position of lead role in movie and does so again Red Sparrow, providing enough theatrical on-screen presence to make Dominika feel conflicted in her struggle in her current predicament as well as determination to survive in this dangerous espionage game. That being said, her character isn’t quite the most compelling as (just like most of the movie) it feels a bit cliché within the spy genre (i.e. a person forced into becoming something they are not). Kind of sounds like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games doesn’t it? Furthermore, Lawrence’s Russian accent is a bit jarring. Sometimes its good, sometimes okay, and sometimes it just seems like a parody of accent (you know…the Russian type of accent that we all mimic and sound like). To me, it just doesn’t another work as well as was intended. The next primary character in the film behind Lawrence is actor Joel Edgerton who plays CIA operative Nathaniel Nash. Known for his roles in Warrior, Loving, and Zero Dark Thirty, Edgerton, much Lawrence, handles himself well in a lead role, giving Nash purpose in the film as well as trying to sway the conflicted Dominika. However, his character isn’t well-rounded or developed enough beyond the classic “American CIA-operative” found within the spy-thriller genre. Additionally, the on-screen chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is pretty “blah” and doesn’t really spark any romantic, which is disappointing since the movie hinges on Dominika seduction on Nash.
As somewhat as an ambiguous antagonist character is actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Dominika’s dubious uncle Dimitrevich Egorov. Known for his roles in The Drop, The Danish Girl, and Blood Ties, Schoenaerts proves to be the most effective in pulling off his role as a Russian and as the First Deputy Director of the SVR. Also, he even looks the part. In a nutshell, while the character of Dimitrevich isn’t really anything new, but it’s a perfect fit and Schoenaerts does good work with that character. Personally, I like him better than Lawrence’s Dominika. Behind him is seasoned actor Jeremy Irons who plays a large supporting role in the character of Russian General Vladimir Andrejevich Korchnoi. Irons, known for his roles in The Lion King, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Die Hard with a Vengeance, is a great character actor and, while the movies he’s in might be hit or miss sometimes, he performance in them is usually solid. Thus, his character in Red Sparrow is indeed memorable, but (again) that’s mostly due to Iron’s screen presence rather than the film’s script on the character of General Vladimir Korchin.
The rest of the cast fill out the more side / secondary characters in supporting efforts of the Red Sparrow narrative. This includes actress Joely Richardson (Nip / Tuck and The Tudors) as Dominika’s sickly mother Nina Egorovoa, actress Charlotte Rampling (Assassin’s Creed and Dexter) as the cold-hardened headmistress at the Sparrow intuition who is simply named Matron, actor Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones and Justice League) as high-ranking Russian official Colonel Zacharov, actor Sergej Onopko (Golden Job and A Rose in Winter) as Russian operative Simyonov, actress Thekla Reuten (The American and In Bruges) as fellow Sparrow Marta Yelenova, actress Mary Louise-Parker (Weeds and RED) as a US Senator Chief of Staff Stephanie Boucher, actor Douglas Hodge (The Night Manager and Penny Dreadful) as Dominika’s contact boss in Budapest Maxim Volontov, and actor Bill Camp (Lawless and The Night Of) and actress Sakina Jaffery (Timeless and House of Cards) as CIA-operatives Marty Gable and Trish Forsyth. All of theses actors and actress in the film do well in their respective parts, which are mostly to propel the main story’s events and characters forward. Still, some of them, mostly Rampling’s Matron, could’ve been more developed, especially since she was more of an interesting character in the aspect of Sparrow schooling / teaching. That being said, with maybe the exception of her, most of these characters are pretty forgetful.
Dominika Egorovoa enters a dangerous world of espionage, deception, and seduction in the film Red Sparrow. Director Francis Lawrence newest film brings Jason Matthew’s bestselling book to life, using the film as vehicle for actress Jennifer Lawrence to showcase her theatrical talents as a conflicted character within a harsh and cruel world of being a Russian “sparrow”. Unfortunately, while the source material be intriguing (i.e. an espionage thriller) and some of the cinematic nuances are unique, the film itself is relatively boring, lacks character depth, shallow in narrative substance, overtly overdrawn, and formulaically derivate to other spy / espionage movies that have come before. Personally, I was disappointed with this movie. As I stated, I like Jennifer Lawrence and I was really hoping that I would like this movie, but the film’s end result just a bland feeling with me as I was rarely engaged in the film’s events. Thus, I would have to say that my recommendation for this movie is definite “skip it” as there’s not much to see like about this movie, unless you’re a super die-hard fan of Jennifer Lawrence’s work (just watch any one of her other projects instead). While the tale of a former Russian ballerina who becomes a train in the art of seduction and used as a weapon to obtain information on a US American operative might sound interesting, the movie Red Sparrow is simply just a flightless bird that fails to resonate entertainment warmth and engaging theatricals.
2.5 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: March 2nd, 2018
Reviewed On: March 8th, 2018
Red Sparrow is 139 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity