Red Sparrow (2018)
Red Sparrow (2018)

Genre: Spy and Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.

Release Date: March 2nd, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Francis Lawrence Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Bill Camp, Joely Richardson, Thekla Reuten

 


 

I

n Russia, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a star ballet dancer. Just as she’s performing a packed-house routine at the Bolshoi Theatre, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) arranges a covert meeting with an informant in Gorky Park. Nash is clearly a spook, though it takes a few scenes to realize that he’s specifically a CIA agent. As if to emphasize some parallel with these two roles, the editing cuts back and forth between Dominika’s act and Nash’s rendezvous. And, indeed, her performance is cut short by her partner landing on her leg, crushing the bone, while Nash’s exchange concludes in gunfire, after which he must flee from police and into the arms of embassy guards.

Nash’s mission is botched, but his contact makes a clean getaway, ensuring that this unknown Russian mole can continue providing information to the United States. This is much to the dismay of the SVR (Russia’s intelligence service), represented by a trio of ruthless men: two military leaders (Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds) and the deputy director of the SVR, Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), who happens to be Dominika’s uncle. Three months after Dominika’s accident, which may not have been so unpremeditated, she’s given little choice but to help Ivan’s cause – to identify the traitor. She’s forced into a cruelly inflexible school, which educates her in the art of psychological manipulation, programming her to sacrifice everything for a higher purpose – which unsubtly translates into shedding her pride and modesty (or disassociating all sentiment) so that she can become intimately acquainted with any given target. The training is so unethical that she dubs it a “whore school,” since she’s regularly required to demonstrate her dedication through random sexual acts (sex seems to be the most influential tool at her disposal). “There’s another life for you, if you want it.”

As a Mata Hari of sorts, Dominika eventually confronts Nash, from whom she’s supposed to access the coveted information. Their romance is the first of many problems with “Red Sparrow,” which attempts to be a more realistic – or certainly more severe – take on thrillers like “La Femme Nikita” or “Salt” or even “Hanna” (and to a lesser degree, the sillier action movies “Haywire” and “Atomic Blonde”). Perhaps the biggest downfall is the harshness of the characters and their actions; these are some incredibly bitter, immoral, cold-blooded people, who remain perpetually steely and unfeeling, flashing icy, dead eyes as they coerce, betray, murder, rape, and torture anyone in their paths. The “sparrow” program, from which Dominika graduates (or, at least, passes through) is decidedly more unprincipled and callous than anything that is typically portrayed in American counterpart institutions. Maybe the sparrows are tougher and more effective because of this, but this depiction makes it difficult to imagine any sort of dependability from students; alumnae are surefire candidates for dissent.

Plus, emotional weaknesses contribute to a sense of humanity. Terrible people doing terrible things to one another rarely inspires sympathy. Are audiences supposed to care what happens when everyone involved is an insentient robot? While there are several engrossing sequences of suspense (and some gut-wrenching torture), “Red Sparrow” is mostly a slow-burn mystery, with all of the glamor of James Bond and the excitement of “Mission: Impossible” diluted to the point of a tranquil yet mean-spirited game of spying and deceit. On the surface, nearly none of it is clever, which is quite disappointing in a movie about espionage and duplicity and triple-crosses. And though it isn’t badly paced, the lengthy running time forces audiences to wait far too long for a big reveal or a twist ending or some bit of unforeseen resourcefulness that surely must have been brewing during all of the hard-hearted endeavors. By the end of it all, it’s somewhat like listening to a two-hour joke, straining and toiling for the inevitable punchline, which can’t possibly be good enough to warrant the extreme delay.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10