Great acting saves the experience of this slow-paced and overly long affair.
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! from last year was high art – pretty difficult to watch and understand, but not a good film in the end. Likewise, Red Sparrow is far from your typical spy thriller, but at the same time, by no means a bad film. The film tells the story of Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), an incredibly talented and valued ballerina who injures her leg during one of her performances on stage and is unable to dance anymore. After this accident, she can’t financially support her ill mother and herself, but help comes from her strange uncle who suggests that Dominika may be of use to the Russian government. If she agrees to do one mission for them, then he will provide for her. She is forced to join a special camp where people are prepared to become Red Sparrows: spies who are capable of gaining information by seduction and also by recognising and fulfilling the mental needs of their victims.
Red Sparrow doesn’t offer a lot of action scenes, which is quite unusual and, overall, it is not such a fun movie to watch as its contemporaries, last year’s Atomic Blonde for example. Rather, it presents some very disturbing and violent scenes and keeps you focused because of the talent on screen. On the one hand, it’s a welcome change from the almost non-stop action and fast pacing of spy films. On the other, it feels too sluggish, sometimes seeming endlessly long. The plot in itself isn’t anything special, however, it enables viewers to take a closer look at the negative side of being a spy in contrast to the one we got used to seeing in films such as the James Bond series.
Jennifer Lawrence gives a powerful performance, she fills the role of a capable spy and introduces us to this completely different world, she carries the film and brings an emotional element to it. It also helps that Joel Edgerton delivers a solid performance as Nate Mash, an American spy. The only issue here being that the creators did not allow us to become more invested in the characters. They did not give us more of the character’s backgrounds and we never get to know them more than was necessary. For others, the bigger problem is the Russian accents, especially given that they are British and American actors.
Red Sparrow is in need of shortening, there feels like a good half an hour that could be removed. Some scenes with useless dialogue should have been cut out or replaced with a little more action, even if it was just a few short scenes. They would not have brought the film significantly closer to conventional spy thrillers, but rather have helped the pace and increased the tension and our interest in the plot. Of course there is a big mystery within this plot of who is the Russian mole which admittedly plays out really well, with a nice twist in the end. The other mystery, in contrast, fails to be as inconspicuous and ultimately proves to be rather obvious. The mystery being which side is Jennifer Lawrence truly on? Does she work for Mother Russia or the Americans?
By the end of Red Sparrow, it seems like the screenwriters and director thought that the audience would not know the truth, when they actually did! I like the fact that director Francis Lawrence did not want his movie to be conventional so he tried his best to make it different. Nevertheless, if he rethought some of the decisions he took, Red Sparrow would be more fully appreciated, not only by critics, but also by the audience.
Red Sparrow (2018), directed by Francis Lawrence, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate 15.