Red Sparrow wants you to believe it’s a sexy espionage thriller, one written by Justin Haythe (from both the Oscar-nominated Revolutionary Road and box-office bomb The Lone Ranger), based on a novel by Jason Matthews, and directed by frequent Lawrence collaborator Francis Lawrence (the Hunger Games franchise). With this team on hand what could possibly go wrong?
When Dominika Egarova (Jennifer Lawrence), Russia’s premiere ballerina, has a career-ending accident on stage, it seems the life she’s built for herself and her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) is quickly coming to an end. Enter her politician uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) who sets her up on an assignment to get close to a sleazy tycoon to get information that’s valuable to the Russian government… who gets assassinated while he violates her. She’s then given the choice to be killed as well so there are no witnesses, or become a Sparrow – a government spy who uses their sexuality as a weapon. She reluctantly becomes a Sparrow.
Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is a CIA operative working in Russia as a handler for a mole planted in the Russian government. When a meet with his mole goes awry, Nash finds himself in the crosshairs of the Russians and the scrutiny of his own people. But when the mole goes silent, Nash devises a plan to re-establish trust. The Russians know what’s going on and send Dominika on her first assignment as a Sparrow: get close to Nash and find out who the mole is so they can execute him. Only they weren’t expecting Dominika and Nash to form a real bond.
I read the original script back when it first got picked up for production, and it was a fantastic, fast paced and intriguing spy-vs-spy story. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie we were given. Instead, what’s on the screen is a slow-paced origin story of a “normal” person being forced into a spy role. It’s painfully obvious that when Jennifer Lawrence got brought on to play the lead, she demanded to be written as the primary focus of the film. This turns the original lead of Nash into almost an afterthought that’s just lucky enough to get weaved into the story.
Proof that no matter how good your script may be, as the writer you have little to no influence on the final project. At least in this case they let Haythe rewrite himself.
The story in this final project is way too long at 139-minutes. It contains minimal conflict along the way as everyone gets their information so easily (Nash knows immediately who Dominika is, the Russians know about Nash immediately, in the end the mole reveals his identity willingly, etc). It’s just so convenient and the origin story for how she becomes a Sparrow is so drawn out, I was constantly checking the time in sheer boredom, just praying it’d all be over soon!
I’m usually a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think she’s beautiful and a very talented actress. Admittedly, I have yet to see Mother, which I heard is a hard fail for her as an actress. After seeing Red Sparrow, I’m willing to believe that. In this movie, she was all accent, no talent. For someone who comes across so lively and fun in her interviews, she was so dead in the eyes during this film! She gave her lines, sure, but there was no emotion behind them other than the inflections of her voice. Her face barely ever moved, and her eyes were soulless. It was like watching an Academy award winning actress phone in a performance for a high school play. The name puts the butts in the seats, but the lifeless performance left me feeling like I’d just wasted an evening that could’ve been spent doing other things.
I’m also surprised that after the media coverage following stolen nude photos being leaked online that Lawrence would have this be her second nude performance in as many years (the first being in the aforementioned Mother). Still, I have a suspicion a body double may have played a part here.
The other actors involved also gave pretty weak performances compared to their previous bodies of work. It was almost as if everyone was afraid they might outshine Ms. Lawrence, which in this instance would not have been hard to do.
I was left completely disappointed by what should have been a badass spy movie. Instead, we’re left with lengthy, uninteresting storytelling and weak performances all-around. It’s difficult to recommend seeing Red Sparrow at full price, and that’s coming from someone who was treated to a screening of the film. Wait for this one to show up in your local Redbox or Netflix queue; that way you’ll only risk a few bucks – or your time – before you inevitably turn it off to go do something that’s actually fun.