Red Sparrow Movie Review
Red Sparrow is sleek, smart, but not that much fun
Screenshot from 2018 film "Red Sparrow"
Photo provided with permission
At the screening for Francis Lawrence's taut Russian espionage thriller 'Red Sparrow', we were told to write our reviews with consideration to the reader, to not spoil the films surprises. Surprises there are, name a picture that's suspense derives from political coalition and enigmatic subsurface intelligence agencies that doesn't have a few switch-eroos. However, here we are not entirely ambushed by the ending, but by the unapologetic violence and sex that isn't squeezed into the gently pessimistic tone, it's front and center. Depending on what you believe, the Russian's may or may not have rigged the election, they may or may not have won the space race, they may or may not have "men that look like toads" contrasting the "gorgeous woman"(a line greeted with an epiphany of laughter), but one things for certain, after the credits started to role, Russia moved to top of my do not be tortured here list.
'Red Sparrow' seems to transpire in a distant Communist land, with a protagonist who is fed up by the conformity of powerful men who take advantage, and a fraudulent and sclerotic political system that is every bit as repulsive as those it employs. Although the uninhabited grand lavish buildings and stair ways, cold and lifeless weather, and unmissable Russian monuments say otherwise, the reality is, this is a world not too distant. A world that exploits power like this seems devastatingly similar to the one we live in today. Luckily Jennifer Lawrence brilliantly once again embodies a strong female role, that like the actress herself, contends even the harshest of power hungry villains. And like the character she inhabits, Lawrence has proven she can convincingly transform into any role, no matter what that may entail. Here, she is equally fearful and confident, equally unbreakable and emotional, which makes her wholly human. We side with her despite her constant teasing of sides. Playing with mood effortlessly, as she toys with our perception, until confusion becomes revelation. Although, I am sad to report that such a mysterious and interesting character simply drudges through a near two and a half hour slow burn slug fest, as every scene of torture and unwanted intercourse finds a way to one up the last vulgar scene.
The movie opens to a seamless juxtaposition of Dominika(Jennifer Lawrence) effortlessly gliding across the theater stage, as her boisterous red attire pops amidst the dark backdrop, a scene that later would openly admit it's inspiration to 1948's 'The Red Shoes' . Her routine mirrors a back-alley chase sequence, as CIA operative Nathaniel Nash(Joel Edgerton) attempts to escape a deal gone wrong. Immediately following arrest, and a ghastly career ending injury, we soon get a taste for explosive perverse violence as Dominika viscously strikes a couple mid affair with a golf club. Considering such a mistake, her only hopes to revivify, comes in the form of a new life. Her devious uncle Mathias then draws her into espionage, where against her dying mothers warning, she joins Sparrow School. A post Cold-War organization that sees men and woman as vessels to infiltrate foreign secrets. Whose practices are reveled as patriotic, when really they bask in debauchery. This is reinstated in the chilling monologue "only Russia is willing to make sacrifices... you will become Sparrows of beauty and strength... Every human being is a puzzle of need, you must become the missing piece and they will tell you everything". Ironically, Lawrence's(Francis) movie was missing a few of the pieces it needed to make this a good time at the Cineplex.
The spy genre per say is quite the departure for the Lawrence combo, that's immense YA 'Hunger Games' trilogy swept the nation and they're pockets making an average of about 750,000 dollars in the U.S. a piece. Now working with the script from Justin Haythe, whose twists and turns keep the audience intrigued. Despite it's unmistakable resemblance to 'Salt', 'Atomic Blonde', and most importantly 'The Conformist'. Which was Bernardo Bertolucci's masterpiece that followed it's protagonist through political and moral quandary, famously sporting the idea that as the the characters psychology changes so do the colors around him. 'Red Sparrow' utilizes the very same overripe baroque film technique. The first act shows Dominika's political commitment to her own autonomy, as her surroundings are presented and tinted with glaring reds, which of course symbolize communism. Once she becomes fond of the ever handsome and decidedly witty American Joel Edgerton, the reds begin to turn blue, as fascism begins to blend with the blues of democracy. The buildings and saturation slowly turn blue, and so does Dominika.
Visually spectacular? Yes, however, it lacks immediacy, grounded pacing, and most of all entertainment(until the third act). Sure, there are plenty of films I have not enjoyed that are brilliant. But for a film that boasts secrecy and being undercover, this ones flaws are out in the open. As it pleads for us to take it seriously, to the point that the grand production design, excellent performances, and delightful twists become eye rolling. And in all seriousness ogling has never felt more sickening, torture never so unnerving, which may have been the point, nonetheless, this can make for one tough viewing.
The great French director Jean Luc Gordard boldly stated "all you need is a gun and a girl" to achieve excellence in film. 'Red Sparrow' has both, yet manages to be disappointing. Gordard also criticized craft over innovation, and for that reason, for all it's craft, 'Red Sparrow' is just another forgettable spy genre film that lounges in the comfort of cliche, and even then, it still isn't a fun watch.