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Published on March 2nd, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls


Red Sparrow

Zzzzzzz.  What?  Is it over?  Thanks God.  Even with a great cast, Red Sparrow is a blindingly boring spy story with an overbaked running time.

The tragically bland spy drama Red Sparrow has a lot of things going for it including its star, Jennifer Lawrence, who is one of the most agreeable and bankable Hollywood leading ladies working today. The film’s genre is a staple in multiplexes and its budget is relatively high enough for you to see each dollar spent on screen. Even though it’s being ushered into theaters with a seemingly silver spoon in its mouth, the movie itself unquestionably fails to ignite. Wholly disengaging and somehow morally bankrupt, Red Sparrow lumbers through an extended runtime without providing anything to hook you with. It is not a film that rewards patient viewers in any way remotely approaching being worth spending your money on. Stick a fork in this bird, Jerry; it’s done.

Fiercely loyal Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a Russian ballerina who suffers a career-ending injury before the opening title card has been revealed. She’s desperate to find a way of supporting her ailing mother while rehabilitating her damaged body. An opportunity arrives in the form of her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) who makes her an offer she can’t refuse. This tantalizing job prospect would involve complete submittal to the secretive Sparrow spy service, stripping Dominika of personality, self-respect, and individuality.

Not long after setting herself from her peers is Dominika whisked off for a major assignment: seduce an American CIA operative named Nate (Joel Edgerton) and gain access to his mysterious Russian informant who’s leaked secrets out of the motherland and into enemy hands. What follows is a tale of cloak and dagger replete with scenes of torture, extreme violence, and graphic sexuality. It wants to be edgy and twisted but it only comes off as gross and unpleasant. More effective physical espionage coercion could be found in any given episode of 24 – a major studio feature film release in 2018 should have tapped into what really hits us where it’s felt the most.

The biggest tragedy of Red Sparrow is that it comes off as completely out of touch with modern expectations. There’s respect to be found in marching to your own drum, of course, but this spy movie is objectively unsexy, unintelligent, and undercooked throughout. A movie has to pull its own weight in a crowded marketplace and Star Power alone can’t float many boats like it used to. Six months from now the world will have forgotten that this movie ever existed. Of course it’s a shame of a wasted opportunity, but isn’t every bad movie?

Relating to Red Sparrow’s inherent flaw of lagging a step behind its audience, the movie doesn’t feel of this time or timeless at all. Floppy disks are a plot point in this movie. They got vending machines dispensing goddamn burner phones but the McGuffin is weaker than most usually are.

Francis Lawrence (no relation to the star actress) can stage scenes with precision but each touch lacks passion and inspiration. What’s the appeal of this subject matter to those that are tasked with translating the heart of the piece to the audience? Your guesses are as good as anyone’s.

Jeremy Irons tries his own Ruski voice in some scenes and not at all in others. As has been the case with the actor recently (see also: Justice League) he just isn’t given the goods or the opportunity to stand out. Which is a shame, because he clearly doesn’t give much of a fuck and it would be awesome to see him just let loose broadly. He’s leaps and bounds more interesting than any other performer outside of Lawrence, most notably eclipsing the wasted talents of a confused Joel Edgerton and a sedated Ciaran Hinds.

Red Sparrow might, if nothing else, inspire some back-and-forth conversation regarding its politics of gender and sexuality. Full frontal male nudity is included in a couple of moments in a way to try to “level the playing field” among the sexes but the lazy reliance on sexual assault and female objectification crashes the film into the ground and puts a bad taste in your mouth very early on.

The idea of Katniss as John Wick is more appealing than the thought of Mystique as Smiley (from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which Red Sparrow would kill to be compared favorably to). Still, the Lawrences can’t be blamed for at least trying to take a swing at something outside their normal wheelhouse. The fact that the star and director seem unable to connect with the material in any meaningful way makes it extra difficult to get into the film’s groove.

A whole movie could’ve been made about Dominika’s time in training at the Sparrow Academy or whatever it’s called. Almost all of the scenes that we get during that stretch of the story are unpleasant to watch but at least they make you feel something. The same can’t be said about the flaccid sexual magnetism between Dominika and Nate, nor the intended breaks of levity that land with a thud, nor the small number of action sequences that feel as staged and as safe as an amateur production.

Running a dreadful 139 minutes, Red Sparrow clips its own wings early enough to make you pray for sweet relief from the tedium after about an hour. There are no thrills, chills, or moments of celluloid empathy that make this one worth the effort. J Law will rebound instantly and effortlessly but Red Sparrow is an unfortunate black spot on her filmography.

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About the Author

Dan Nicholls

is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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