Dir. Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, and Jeremy Irons.
Red Sparrow might be the oddest film released this year. A Cold War-esque spy thriller, sold as a blockbuster, starring the biggest movie star on the planet, which also happens to be brutally violent. I had high hopes for the film, re-uniting Francis Lawrence with Jennifer Lawrence, the dream team behind the latter three hunger games. Some complained that the last two hunger games were too dour, I disagreed. Red Sparrow on the other hand, is a true sludge-fest.
Red Sparrow follows the life of Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova, a prima-ballerina, who is looking after her sick mum. After an accident destroys her dancing career, she is offered a chance to keep the care her mum is receiving by her uncle, Vanya Egorova, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, a big shot in Russian intelligence. After accepting his offer her life spirals out of control and she has no choice but to attend Sparrow school. A place where young Russians are trained to use their bodies as weapons. Lawrence is soon sent on her first mission, to get close to Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent Nate Nash, in order to find out who his source is within Russian intelligence.
Francis Lawrence started off his career as a music video director. Directing some truly iconic videos for the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. He’s a fantastic stylist and this film does look great. Lawrence knows how to frame an arresting image. Take a car driving through snow in the middle of nowhere, it’s a gorgeous image. Reminiscent of David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake. The film is set in the modern day, but the use of muted colours, especially with the costumes gives it a Cold War era feel. There is an obvious desire here to establish atmosphere and tone. He hit that target with the hunger games as sweetly as Katniss could shoot her bow, but here he is well off the mark, and the tone settled upon is a monotonous one.
It was about ten minutes into the movie, when I turned to the person sitting next to me and whispered “this is going to be long.” The film plods along at such a god-awfully slow pace. It flicks between hotel rooms, to bleak looking streets, to torture scenes in such a monotonous fashion, it’s as if the film is trying to bore you into submission. It’s so much style over substance it robs the film of a pulse. It doesn’t help that we are never given any reason to route for Lawrence’s character. The film is a psychological thriller where we aren’t supposed to know when someone is manipulating someone else, or being truthful. It’s hard to connect to a character when you don’t know what their motives are. Lawrence plays it well, but she plays it so coldly, so dead eyed, you don’t know whether she’s shielding away her humanity or if she had no humanity to begin with.
This is a dark, grim, bleak, and nasty film. There’s a point around the beginning of the end of the second act, involving a torture where the film shifted from boring to unlikeable for me. The brutality of the movie feels like it’s revelled in too much. I’m not squeamish in the slightest, but I just couldn’t work out who could enjoy watching these scenes. It felt like torture for the audience. It’s these moments that make the film nasty. I know Jennifer Lawrence said there was a point during Mother! Where she asked Aronofsky if they’d taking it too far. She should have asked that question here. The only saving grace to the film is the final reveal which is pretty satisfying, but by that point it’s hard to even care.
Red Sparrow had a great team behind it. It’s an adult movie of the likes that doesn’t get made a lot these days. It is ultimately incredibly disappointing. It’s based on a book written by an ex-CIA operative, so you could argue that the grimness is all based on real life, but it’s just not enjoyable. It’s relentlessly brutal, and utterly boring at the same time.