Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Written By: Justin Haythe
Runtime: 139 mins
Spy thrillers can go two ways: they can either be really realistic with a lot of talking a la 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' or they can be works of pop fiction like 'Jason Bourne' or 'Mission: Impossible.' Both have a place in cinema and at times can scratch a particular itch when the mood strikes. The 2018 film 'Red Sparrow', directed by Francis Lawrence, is neither of those. It is not written with enough depth, and the characters are not given enough weight to be realistic enough, and it is not action heavy enough to fall into the other camp. I'm not saying that these characters should be mashing a piece of gum together to make explosives and blow up a fancy restaurant, but when the source material written by author Jason Matthews is given such praise; it just seems like somethings been missed.
Although the movie is greatly helped by the performance of Jennifer Lawrence, at only 27 years old, she still seems too old to sell me on her being a prima ballerina - then still have enough vivacious youth in her to become an assassin or "sparrow." The average age that a ballerina retires is 35. Admittedly, this does sound ageist, but it became distracting at the beginning of the film. How many lifetimes would you need to do all these things? No person can do all these things. In the fantastic opening sequence of 'Red Sparrow,' we see Lawrence dancing,suddenly, she is pummeled by her male dancer counter-part and the camera pans back to reveal her brutally broken leg. Not but three scenes later, she is wearing high heels. Her injury is mentioned briefly, and then never spoken of again. It is the catalyst of the film. The whole reason why she becomes a "sparrow." This is Russia is it not? I am not a doctor, but don't injuries like that hurt a lot more when it is cold? This is just one example: but it is the culmination of these little slight oversights that rob the film of any kind of realistic depth.
The most enthralling and captivating portion of the movie, and the reason why you came to see it is the Red Sparrow training school sequences. Heavily featured in the trailer, this is only a minor twenty minute portion of a film that is not really about that. Again, my pension for irritation came up here too. As Lawrence's character stood almost a foot above the other students in the school and had hair and make-up that was on point, although the rest of her classmates looked downtrodden and haggard. All of this just made the film really silly. In the Red Sparrow novel, much of the book has to do with the training the Sparrows undergo including the manipulation of a scientific phenomenon known as synesthesia. In short, synesthesia is the stimulation of one part of the body that arouses automatic and involuntary responses in other parts of the body. MYYYYYY BROTHAAAA! So it can be used to exert favor or influence. But it is interesting as that was a centerpiece of the novel, and is touched upon heavily in the Red Sparrow training sequences- then when the training is over it is essentially never used; or if it is - she really sucks at it.
Although 'Red Sparrow' has a stellar cast, it falls victim to the thing a lot of bad spy movies fall victim to: inconsistent accents. Jeremy Irons is a fantastic actor, but I am supposed to believe that his British accent is Russian? But more unforgivable is all the other typical pitfalls a spy movie has. Talk of double agents, political intrigue that is not fully explained or muttled, so much back and forth between Eastern European countries it ceases to matter, and characters that are so underdeveloped it doesn't matter if they live or die. 'Red Sparrow' had too much going on. Does it want to be about a spy defecting the Soviet Union - that could have been a whole movie. Does it want to be about the Sparrow training program? That also could have been a whole movie. Is it about a Russian spy that falls in love with an American spy by accident? Also a whole movie. In short, 'Red Sparrow' is about a woman who is forced to become a spy to help her mother and is looking for a way out. But along the way, the plot becomes so needlessly convoluted you forget why you are watching it. It almost becomes a relief to see the many torture scenes, because at least those are coherent and make sense.
'Red Sparrow' is an unnecessary film playing off of spy movie archetypes and romanticized Eastern European Cold War tropes. You have seen better in 'Spy Games,' 'Atomic Blonde,' 'Mission: Impossible,' 'Hanna,' 'Bourne Identity,' 'Casino Royale' - pretty much name a spy movie and it's superior to 'Red Sparrow.' Skip this one.