Reviewers were given a very task with Red Sparrow, as we’re not allowed to reveal major plot points with this Jennifer Lawrence headlined feature. Running at 139 minutes minutes, the flick ambitiously attempts to cram a ton of genres into the narrative and, for the most part, fails.
After suffering a career ending injury caused by fellow dancer, former ballerina Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced into making a different type of living to support her ailing mother (Joely Richardson). Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high ranking intelligence officer, persuades her to attend Sparrow School, a program that trains physically attractive people to use their attributes to manipulate their respective target. In the world of Red Sparrow, the Cold War continues, as Russia is attempting to stake its claim on the world with what they believe is a fractured America.
Dominika’s Sparrow training leads her to the seemingly impossible mission of luring an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) into her web in order to expose a mole within the Russian ranks.
Director Francis Lawrence (Constantine), who worked with Lawrence in the three Hunger Games films, has a ton of rich material to work with, and from a visual standpoint he does a commendable job (the movie is beautifully composed and features a couple of stunning sequences). Unfortunately, 139 minutes is way too long to tell Dominika’s story, and Red Sparrow could have succeeded as a tight fisted narrative (95-100 minutes would have been perfected). Instead, the story is way too bloated for its own good, and it will weary many a moviegoer once the final chapter commences.
Lawrence is a bonafide movie star, and her best moments occurs when Dominika’s channeling her inner rage. That being said, I kept imagining The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo leads Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara (and even To The Wonder’s Olga Kurylenko) in her stead throughout the film, and all three would have been perfect in the role. Letting one’s mind wander to such matters during a film is a very bad sign. In short, Lawrence, amidst all that hard work and charisma, is miscast.
Speaking of miscasting, Red Sparrow would also have been better served with genre filmmakers who don’t mind pushing the narrative boundaries (i.e. Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg) and placing their own aesthetic stamp to the proceedings. While beautifully shot, Red Sparrow lacks personality and verve from a filmmaking standpoint.
Fans of Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) and Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop) are in for a treat, as their moments absolutely takes Red Sparrow out of its doldrums. Each actor commands their scenes and, for a moment, the story flies off to unexpectedly intriguing directions. The Sparrow School section, in which the Matron (Rampling) becomes Domenika’s fateful mentor, could have been a movie all by its lonesome and succeeded.
There is a ton of interesting material and performances to be found in Red Sparrow, but the bland chemistry between the leads (Lawrence and Edgerton) along with the overstuffed story grounds the film.
A ton of editing would have done Red Sparrow a world of good, and while the picture has its merits, I was relieved when the experience was over. With all of its flaws Red Sparrow is still a worthy enough watch thanks to a well done final act, some interesting visual sequences, and the presence of Irons, Rampling, and Schoenaerts. In sum, wait for Red Sparrow to hit streaming or Blu-ray!
Red Sparrow hits theaters March 2.
Rating: 3 out of 5
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