So I’ve been pondering for the last four or five waking hours contemplating about how I feel about Red Sparrow.
Maybe “how” isn’t necessarily correct: I know HOW I feel about the movie: I liked it… but I didn’t like it that much.
I guess the more interesting question would be WHY I feel this way about the movie (a question that’s more interesting for a reviewer to answer than “how”. “How” is the question really bad reviewers are more interested in). The concept brought forth in Red Sparrow is definitely interesting, and it definitely goes places other films in the genre usually don’t go. However, after sitting down and thinking about the movie for a long time, I just feel kind of empty.
SITWOL: A young Russian woman is forced, through threat of death, to become a Sparrow, a Russian state infiltration specialist.
There are, in my opinion, two primary reasons why Red Sparrow doesn’t quite stick its landing:
- It has fascinating premises that never really go anywhere.
- It has good performances of characters that aren’t really interesting characters.
Here’s what I mean about point 1:
Much like another film I saw recently, the YA film Every Day, Red Sparrow mainly gets by on its premises: the first one is the idea of an infiltration unit organized by a tyrannical, psychotic Russian state. The idea of a unit trying to brainwash young men and women into seductive intelligence extractors, all the while doing so under the assumption that these young men and women are seen as property of the state, is equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
However, the premise eventually loses its credibility. In order to have such an entity exist in a film, you must make it convincing. In order to make it convincing, in this scenario, you have to show it breaking down our protagonist. Instead, Lawrence’s character is not only constantly defiant to their strict disciplines, but she is never severely punished for doing so.
Because of this, the idea of the organization’s existence became less and less believable and compelling. They sure talked a good game, but they never met it with action.
The second premise, which makes up most of the movie, is the idea of Jennifer Lawrence’s character working for the Russians to extract information from an American spy (Joel Edgerton) under fear of torture and death, while simultaneously playing with the Americans who are trying to promise her freedom.
So the movie has a bit of mystery-play going on: whose side is she really on? Who is she going to end up betraying?
Except, I was really giving the movie too much credit. Everything Jennifer Lawrence’s character says can be taken at face value. Once I realized that, I felt like I was over-inflating my experience, especially because the film chooses the neatest, tidiest option imaginable for the ending.
Oh, there’s also a part in the beginning where Lawrence’s character is a talented ballerina. Aside from being a catalyst to move the plot forward, there really isn’t any purpose for these scenes.
Both of them are good performers, and there really isn’t any actor that does a bad job, but the movie never tries for complexity:
Jennifer Lawrence is a suppressed woman living in a suppressive country, and the only real character traits she has is that she’s very smart, she loves her mom, and of course, she’s strong and independent.
Joel Edgerton is a really good guy who can be a loose cannon sometimes. However, his loose-cannon-ness never really affects the plot in any meaningful way. The very few times he screws up, it’s either not detrimental or it was because of some sort of random occurrence.
What the movie should’ve done is focus solely on Jennifer Lawrence and made her into a very, very complex and memorable character. Then, they should’ve brought in Edgerton in halfway through the movie, and only when Lawrence is told about him.
Instead, it seems like the movie is trying to make BOTH of them lead characters, and thus the movie is unable to make either of them amazing.
Jennifer Lawrence does act her heart out with what little she’s given (and her Russian accent was good enough). And Joel Edgerton is really good at playing Joel Edgerton. But the movie needed something more than that.
Jennifer Lawrence’s mom is little more than a prop in this movie. Most of the Russian and American puppet masters feel really token and not thought out enough.
The soundtrack was like a bunch of white noise and really only helped establish the tone of the movie, nothing more.
There was almost no personality in the cinematography.
It came as no surprise to me that the director of this movie was the same director as most of the Hunger Games movies, considering those movies also really couldn’t maximize the effectiveness of their premises, and felt really neutered.
Another note: this movie has quite a bit of nudity, torture, and attempted rape…. so be wary of that if you’re thinking of seeing this movie and have certain reservations about these kind of things.
In conclusion, Red Sparrow had all the ingredients to be a really good movie… possibly great dare I say. But it can’t get past its weak characters, half-baked premises, pseudo-intellectual script, and poor direction.
Even if you loved this movie, I can’t see you remembering it past a month and a half.