REVIEW: Red Sparrow (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – 20th Century Fox

The following is a review of Red Sparrow — Directed by Francis Lawrence.

In a talk show interview with Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence — the star of Red Sparrow — asked her haters not to see her psychological spy thriller. “If you’re, like, a typical ‘hater’ and you have a blog, don’t go. You’re officially totally uninvited,” Lawrence laughed. Although I would not call myself a ‘typical’ hater, or even a Lawrence-hater, I am, on the other hand, not a die-hard fan. I have been intrigued by her choices of late, though. With intriguing films like mother! and, now, Red Sparrow — two audience-unfriendly thrillers — Lawrence is starting to reframe the way she is perceived.

Like Kristen Stewart before her, Jennifer Lawrence is trying to show her range by doing something very different from the young adult novel adaptations that thrust her onto the scene at the same time as she delivered her Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Unfortunately, while Jennifer Lawrence shows noteworthy fearlessness in this spy-film, the film is not something special. At best it is a serviceable, but brutal spy thriller, and, at worst, it is a punishing and boring spy film that you’ll forgot you ever saw the moment you exit the theater.

In Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence plays a famous Russian ballerina who, on the biggest night of her career, suffers a career-ending injury. After getting involved in the murder of a Russian operative, her creepy uncle Ivan (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), who works in Russian intelligence, gives her an ultimatum — either she can be eliminated or she can choose to become a ‘sparrow,’ a Russian spy that uses seduction to gain intelligence. It isn’t really a choice, so the former ballerina is soon sent to what she later calls a ‘whore school.’

After having undergone some training at the spy school, Ivan assigns his niece to her first mission. She is to get close to American CIA agent Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton) in order to uncover the identity of his contact known only as ‘Marble.’ As Lawrence’s character gets closer and closer to the American agent, it becomes difficult to gather truly what side she is on. Is she a loyal patriot or a double agent?

In 2017, director David Leitch brough us the Charlize Theron-led Cold War action spy film Atomic Blonde, which was powered by John Wick-style action and a jarring, but catchy soundtrack. I full well realize that I was in the minority, when I said that I did not enjoy that film. Stylistically, it did not work for me. I thought it was joyless, unengaging, and overindulgent.

2018’s Red Sparrow is a different beast altogether. It isn’t the Atomic Blonde-like action film that you may have expected, and it isn’t entirely the Black Widow-esque film that superhero fans have sought after. Instead, Red Sparrow is a twisted, uncompromising, and utterly brutal spy thriller that is definitely aimed more at patient adult audiences, but it is also a film that includes scenes that would be more at home in torture porn cinema.

It is never quite as tough to stomach as some of Eli Roth’s films, but Red Sparrow is, at times, an unpleasant spy film that I’m not sure there is an audience for. In fact, yesterday, I think I spotted two or three people leave the half-empty theater early. It also doesn’t help that the film is rather boring. It isn’t boring because it is patient, it is boring because it is terribly overlong. I feel like you could have left an additional twenty minutes on the cutting room floor.

On top of all of that, the poor, underworked Russian accents managed to take me out of the film time and time again. I feel like the only actor who made it out alive with his accentwork was Matthias Schoenaerts, who looks like a younger version of real-life Russian President Vladimir Putin. I was particularly underwhelmed by Jeremy Irons’ accentwork here.

With all of that having been said, the film does have its moments and Jennifer Lawrence is impressive in spurts. I liked Edgerton here too. But, all in all, Red Sparrow is a fairly forgettable, very violent, and utterly uninteresting spy thriller.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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