Red Sparrow,...Red Sparrow...Insert joke about this being a Black Widow stand-alone movie here.
Did you see Atomic Blonde? Didn’t care for the scatter-brain plot that didn’t really make any sense and that overly-stylized theme the whole thing had going for it? Never fear, Francis Lawrence might have just made the movie you were looking for — Red Sparrow.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence (yes, there’s too many Lawrence’s involved with this film) as a Russian secret agents of sorts, Red Sparrow is not the movie that most will expect it to be based on the trailer.
In a previous life, Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) was a dancer. Not just any dancer, but an incredibly gifted ballet dancer who nearly every other character in the movie has either heard of or seen live (no really, almost every single person makes a note of this at some point).
That was a past life, though. After suffering from an injury that abruptly ended that dancing career, Dominika finds herself suddenly out of work. Worse yet, she needs to come up with some way to make money in order to take care for her sick mother, and she needs to find it fast.
The answer comes from her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts). Egrovov is heavily involved with the shady side of Russian Intelligence — meaning he’s the kind of guy to organize assassinations and other secret undercover operations.
He thinks he might have a potential line of work Dominika might be interested in — a program called the Red Sparrows. Red Sparrows, to put it simply, specialize in sex. They’re trained to seduce their target, doing anything and everything that target's heart might desire, all in order to extract (and more often than not, kill) the information that they need. Yes, that is a VERY WEIRD thing for someone’s uncle to recommend them for. Like what.
Then, without going into much further detail in the interest of spoilers (Francis Lawrence sent out a memo at press screenings, asking those reviewing the movie to be as vague as possible when describing the plot), Dominika becomes involved with an American Operative named Nate (Joel Edgerton). Thus follows a series of twists and turns one might expect in a spy thriller, except this time they’re mostly based around the topic of sex.
Red Sparrow isn’t a fast-paced movie in which bullets are constantly flying past the character and there’s a bunch of one-take car chases, like Atomic Blonde. In fact, there are hardly any action scenes at all in Red Sparrow. Instead, this is a slow-burn thriller that focuses in on story and character. While the film takes place in modern day, one would be forgiven for confusing this with a cold-war era movie, with an emphasis in the cold.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The reason why Atomic Blonde didn’t work is because the story was going in so many different directions and people didn’t know how to make heads-or-tails of that movie. Slow burns can be good, as long as the movie has a story the audience can invest in.
Red Sparrow, however, can never quite capitalize on that. While there’s potential within the premise and a few good performances from Jennifer Lawrence (despite an inconsistent Russian accent) and Joel Edgerton, Red Sparrow is never interesting or smart enough to warrant this pace or long of a run-time.
The problem, I found, is the whole thing feels rather disjointed. We spend the first 45 minutes at the Red Sparrow school, where there’s all kinds of these awkward sexual scenes that felt so out of place. Then we begin to focus on the relationship between Dominika and Nate, which all winds up feeling pretty forced. From there we spend all this time with supporting characters who never really add much to the movie. It finally starts to get interesting in the last twenty or thirty minutes, but by then we’re pretty checked out of the film and are waiting for the end credits to roll.
There’s no strong sense of attachment either — everyone in this movie is, more or less, a terrible person. Jennifer Lawrence’s emotional angle is supposed to be her caring for her mother, but that all feels rather forced and doesn’t actually add much to her characterization.
And then there’s the weird bits. The over-the-top, off-putting moments that wind up being far more sexual or violent than they really need to be. I don’t know Francis Lawrence’s reasoning for including these moments, so I won’t try to speak for him. I can guess that he wanted to approach it as saying Jennifer Lawrence is a strong character because she’s always in these gross situations and finds a way to come out on top. While that could have MAYBE worked had it been properly developed, that’s not the feeling Red Sparrow actually gives off. By the end of the film, Lawrence does eventually come out on top and defeats all the scumbags, but we spend so much time watch her get tortured, abused and even raped that the ends certainly don’t justify the means. These are touchy subject matters we’re dealing with here, and unless they’re handled with extreme sensitivity, people are going to be rubbed the wrong way. I’m not saying that Francis Lawrence meant anything by all this, but Red Sparrow winds up feeling like an untimely and sometimes gross movie because of it.
Red Sparrow isn’t a terrible initial watch. On a second viewing, I suspect, the movie wouldn’t hold up as well. However, I can appreciate the fact that this is a different movie than most are expecting — it’s not overly convoluted or full of a bunch of action scenes that gives the audience headaches. It’s just that it’s all kind of dull. Dull and released at the wrong time, that is, but dull nonetheless.
But that’s just one man’s opinion. Watch the Red Sparrow trailer here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie.
A movie that certainly earns its R-rating: 'Red Sparrow' review5