Possible Spoilers ahead!
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a top Russian ballerina whose career is cut tragically short when she suffers a terrible injury on stage. Even with her career over, Dominika is determined to continue providing care for her sickly mother Nina (Joely Richardson). A few months later, Dominika is convinced by her uncle Ivan Dimitrevich Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) – the First Deputy Director of the SVR – into performing a dubious task.
The job leads to Dominika witnessing a murder ordered by the Government. Witnessing the event puts her life in danger, so her uncle gives her a choice: Die, or join something called the Sparrow school. We soom learn this school is really a Russian intelligence program that trains young people to be spied by using their minds and bodies as weapons of seduction.
Dominika has a talent for the spy game, so she is recruited by the government to carry out a top mission to make contact with and seduce a CIA operative named Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton). The goal of her mission is to get him to reveal the identity of his informant within the Russian secret service. But in the spy business, everyone has secrets and Dominika comes to realize that she must always stay one step ahead of her enemies, and especially her friends.
Watching “Red Sparrow” over the weekend, brought me back to the days of “From Russia with Love.” Back then, spy movies had plenty of espionage, and minimal action. Today of course most spy films revolve around the action, and not the actual spying. But I gotta say, “Red Sparrow” was a breath of fresh air for this genre.
“Red Sparrow” was full of dramatic twists and turns, and its main characters were intriguing, and surprisingly well-developed. Possible because they each may or may not have ulterior agendas, but their storylines helped the overall plot I thought. Director Francis Lawrence largely succeeded in creating tension and suspense from the very start, and the tension was there to the very end.
Where “Red Sparrow” failed for me, was in its pacing. The film runs just under 2 1/2 hours, but it felt like I was there for far longer. I think the reason for this is because “Red Sparrow” doesn’t have any action scenes. I don’t mean just big action sequences, I mean this movie doesn’t even have a hand to hand battle. There is one scene in the movie that might qualify as having any action, and it comes in the last twenty or so minutes of the movie.
This was probably a deliberate choice by the filmmakers, but I think the movie could have used something to keep the audiences’ attention. I’m not saying “Red Sparrow” needed to be “Atomic Blonde,” but just one action scene would have helped the pacing issues dramatically. However, I will give the filmmakers credit for trying to explore the dirty world of espionage and its political ramifications.
In the acting department, my future wife Jennifer Lawrence delivers another fine performance as the “Red Sparrow” herself. Lawrence plays Dominika like someone who has fought to keep her feelings bottles up inside. But somehow, this made it easier to accept the way her character goes about her new work.
Through Lawrence, we alos understand her determination and discipline in getting help for her mother, while also watching out for herself. JLaw also dies a good job elevating the dialogue, which at times could be rather thin. But the actress manages to give all her scenes some prestige, and as usual, you can’t take your eyes off of her.
The supporting cast doesn’t fare as well as the leading lady however. Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons doesn’t get much screen time, and he doesn’t even attempt a Russian accent. There was a cool revelation about his character in the second half of the film, but it was never explored the way it should have been.
Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton as Nate Nash, is just kind of there. His subplot doesn’t really pan out in any meaningful way, and Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Charlotte Rampling, and Mary-Louise Parker, are all wasted. Parker in particular, who’s subplot slows down the main story of the film, and it too went nowhere.
The only supporting character that had what I’d call a complete arc, was Matthias Schoenaerts as Ivan Vladimirovich Egorov. Dominka’s uncle was charming, and evil. He cared for his nice, but in a twisted way to say the least. Out of all the supporting cast, his was the only story which had a satisfying resolution.
Based on the book by former CIA operative Jason Matthews, “Red Sparrow” is a modern-day old school spy thriller. But as fun as a classic spy thriller is, Sparrow is also a flawed movie. This film has major pacing issues, and too many dialogue sequences that slow things to a crawl. This movie could easily have been 15=20 minutes shorter.
But even with all those problems, I still liked this movie more than I thought I would. I appreciate what the filmmakers were going for, and the fact that they delivered a serious take on spies. But most of all, I’m thankful it was Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role, because she is the best part of “Red Sparrow.”
“Red Sparrow” score: B-