The past few months have been tough for Jennifer Lawrence. mother! released last year to decidedly mixed critical and audience reviews and flopped at the box office, her relationship with director Darren Aronofsky ended, she was nominated for a Razzie Award, and she even caused a stir after wearing a dress. The Academy Award winner could use some good news and a good old-fashioned spy movie seemed like the answer. Unfortunately, Red Sparrow is an uninteresting mess that is mediocre in its best moments.
Red Sparrow is about Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina who becomes a spy after a freak accident. Along with Russian agents, there are America spies and exotic locales, everyone seems to be lying to each other, and the audience can never really tell what is going on. This is all normal fare for a spy movie, but Red Sparrow does it all ineffectively.
The film’s opening is the highlight of the film. It opens with a spy movie standard. The audience watches as awesomely name CIA agent Nate Nash plans for a clandestine meeting while Egorova prepares for a performance. The scenes go back and forth between high class and high tension heading towards its inevitable climax. Red Sparrow’s opening has an especially satisfying conclusion whose heights the rest of the movie is never able to reach.
As the trailers hint, Red Sparrow is sexually charged. Ironically, the movie is incredibly unsexy. Lawrence is a Sparrow, highly specialized agents who have been trained in the art of seduction. This is not limited to lustful groping; Sparrows are taught to find out their targets deepest desires and to form an actual bond. Despite this in-depth training and the film’s copious amounts of nudity, the scenes are limp. Lawrence spreads her legs, flashes skin, and talks dirty yet the scenes leave as much of an impact as a credit roll.
The pacing is also odd for the genre and causes a lack of tension. Movies involving espionage, spies, and treachery will require lots of dialogue, but in Red Sparrow none of the characters seem to be saying anything important. There is a lack of any sense of urgency and moments that should have the audience on the edge of their seats just seem to pass aimlessly. Big moments in the movie also come to a sudden end before jumping to the next scene without having any time to leave any sort of impression.
The quick pace also affects the characters since the audience is-ironically-never given a chance to bond with them. The end result is that while the entire cast does a fine job, none do a memorable one. Lawrence is especially wasted as she has proven herself to be a great actress who can play varied roles, yet Red Sparrow seems more concerned with highlighting the amount of punishment she is able to withstand.
The third act of the film is especially disappointing. The movie finally settles down on one idea and focuses on Egorova. Up until the point, Egorova has been shown as a super soldier who went to spy school for a few months and despite have no previous training is somehow the best the Russian government has. She constantly outmaneuvers, outfights, and outsmarts anyone who goes up against her. The movie never really explains why she is so good and the audience is just told to accept she is. Even though there is an overly long subplot as the movie closes in on its finale, it is at this point that Egorova’s seems like a capable spy instead of an uber spy.
Red Sparrow seems to have all the ingredients for a fun movie. Instead, it is meandering and lacks any real entertainment value. It tries to be sexy, thrilling, and suspenseful but fails. On the surface it bears a resemblance to Atomic Blonde, but lacks any of the charm.