Red Sparrow | Francis Lawrence | March 2, 2018
Jennifer Lawrence reunites with director Francis Lawrence, who most notably worked with Lawrence recently on the blockbuster The Hunger Games installments Catching Fire and Mockingjay – Part 1 & Part 2. This time, they go for something a bit different with Red Sparrow, the big-screen adaptation of the espionage thriller written by author Jason Matthews, a retired CIA Operations Directorate officer.
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a famed ballerina in Russia. Outside of dancing, her main task is taking care of her sickly mother (Joely Richardson). Tragically, she suffers a brutal injury during a major performance that instantly destroys her career. Now with no income to keep her housing and afford the costly in-house medical care for her mother, she is forced to work for her shady Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is the First Deputy Director of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation).
Dominika soon finds herself recruited to the Sparrow School, a tough nonsense training facility for budding future secret agents for the Federation. The school is overseen by the tough Matron (Charlotte Rampling), who gives the prospectives uncomfortably difficult tasks in order to strip them down to only the necessary ingredients needed to enter the world of espionage. The school is a dehumanizing experience for the recruits who are shockingly sexually exploited and broken down in disturbing ways. It’s like the Kingsman school without any sense of joy.
Things get more complicated once she is put out into the field and encounters humble American CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), who seems like the only one that Dominika can truly trust, but that would mean that she would need to become a double agent, betraying not only her Uncle, but her country as well.
With a runtime of 139 minutes, Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Justin Haythe take their time bringing the world of Jason Matthews’ Red Sparrow book to life. However, the lengthy introduction and setup create a rather laborious pace that takes quite a while to get to where it is going. As one would expect with a film within the spy genre, there are a lot of moving pieces, but the writing doesn’t deliver it in a new or exciting way. A lot of the story rests on the supposed romance and conflicting interest of Dominika’s romantic involvement with Nathaniel, yet it never pulls you in along with them.
Aside from a pretty well-crafted opening segment, Red Sparrow never finds its groove and feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to shock you with moments of violence and sadistic torture. It does surprisingly go pretty hard in to earn its R rating, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the script’s shortcomings and lack of cohesion as you get even more tangled within its web.
You can expect plenty of twists and turns to be thrown at you, yet none of them felt genuinely surprising. The same can be said about the cinematography from Jo Willems, who captures the chilly scenery more than competently, yet it felt more like a tribute to the genre more than anything inventive. The same be said for the fitting, yet a rather safe score by James Newton Howard.
If you can get over the shoddy accents, the performances are solid. Poor Russian accent aside, Lawrence does a fine job in the role and sells the moments of turmoil with the slow-building confidence that she gains along the way. The unsung hero of the film is Joel Edgerton, who gives the film’s most consistent performance. Then there’s the veteran corner of Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, and Ciarán Hinds. Their characters are all thinly drawn and sadly feel interchangeable with any other powerful higher-ups in any other spy thriller despite their best efforts.
There’s enough action and shocking moments of violence to disguise the thriller as being more exciting than it is, but by the time Red Sparrow reaches the two hour mark and you still got another 20 minutes to go, it lost me more and more along the way and I never truly found myself invested in either side of this story, with my feelings just as interchangeable as Dominika’s loyalty.