THE STORY – Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets a CIA agent who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.
THE CAST – Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker & Jeremy Irons
THE TEAM – Francis Lawrence (Director) & Justin Haythe (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 140 Minutes
By Matt N.
Do not let the marketing fool you. “Red Sparrow” is not the empowering, action-packed, exciting spy-thriller you think it is. This ain’t no “Atomic Blonde” (And I didn’t even enjoy that film that much either). Instead, it is a tedious, slow, misguided film that confuses empowerment with misogyny and forgets to serve its audience with an intriguing story within the span of its almost two and a half hour running time. While some will proclaim that Jennifer Lawrence is giving this role her very best, the young and divisive actress gives us yet another role that will prove to be divisive amongst her fan-base. Cold, patient but with no momentum behind its narrative “Red Sparrow” lost me within the first opening minutes before the title card even flashed on the screen.
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a prima ballerina in modern-day Russia who is also a devoted daughter to her sick mother and has a powerful Uncle within the SVR – or Foreign Intelligence Service (Matthias Schoenaerts). After a career-ending injury leaves her future in question, her Uncle reaches out to extend an opportunity for her to begin a new life as a “Sparrow.” She must attend a school which teaches its candidates, trade-craft, deception, and masterful seduction or otherwise face certain death. Manipulated by her government, she must now investigate an American CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who might be the only person she can truly trust.
After delivering a career-best performance in “mother!” last year, Jennifer Lawrence is back on the big screen in the role of Dominika. Within the opening moments of the movie, I was forced to watch Jennifer Lawrence, with her emotionless face (A face she wears throughout 90% of the movie – the other 10% is gasping horror), dance her way through a sequence that I knew couldn’t possibly be her, intercut with a narrative involving Joel Edgerton which I did not understand and then culminate in this tense and dramatic moment that did not stun nor intrigue me. And this is just the first five minutes. With a wavering accent and a lack of passion, Lawrence continues to be our guide throughout the rest of “Red Sparrow.” Whenever she was the focus of the film’s narrative, I’ll admit I was still somewhat curious to understand how the Sparrows are trained (Under the tutelage of the always great Charlotte Rampling) but that sequence of the film only lasts for a few minutes as well. In the meantime, we are cross-cutting back and forth between Dominika’s story and the story of Nate Nash which is totally convoluted until he and Dominika finally cross paths.
Once the two finally do meet, the filmmakers try to weave together this sequence of lies, murder, betrayals, shifting allegiances and anything else they can to get the audience re-invested in the mess that they have created but by this point, it is too late. It wants to be “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” meets “Atomic Blonde” but it’s neither as smart nor as action-packed. And do not even get me started on the way this film positions and utilizes sexuality within its story for Dominika and the other Sparrows she encounters either in training or in the field. What many will consider empowering and a show of strength from Dominika, as she uses her body to trick the misogynistic men around her, is false given that she never does so from a place of strength but instead because is always backed into a corner with no choice because her life depends on it. There’s nothing strong or empowering about that. It’s sad, disturbing and results in some of the most gratuitous rape scenes to come across the screen since “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”
I wish I could praise this film for other merits such as its score, sound design or cinematography. However, all of those are merely adequate and are not worthy enough to stand out in a meaningful way. Supporting performances by Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds or Bill Camp fail to leave an impression either. In a Russian movie where no one speaks a bit of Russian, “Red Sparrow” wants to be something timely, both in how its story is tied to Russia and also how it ties to the #MeToo movement. Director Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence previously teamed up on three “The Hunger Games” movies to great success both with audiences and with critics. I’m afraid to report that their magic may have just run out for this is one spy thriller that is ultimately KIA.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A plot that had me half intrigued and half asleep. Some cold and beautiful shots of the Russian country. Lawrence is compelling to watch despite this not being one of her best performances.