Movie Review: “Red Sparrow”
Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) was a magnificent ballet dancer in Russia. She was the pride of her family and the people she danced for were funding her mother’s medical treatment. During a performance, her dance partner inadvertently stepped on (and broke) her ankle. After the devastating injury, Dominika would be able to recover (for the most part). She could walk and live a normal life but she would never be able to dance again (at least not to the caliber that she could before). Desperate to find a way to continue to support her mother’s medical treatment, Dominika’s uncle reaches out to give her an opportunity. Her uncle is Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high ranking Russian official who was able to pull some strings and get Dominika into the Sparrow program.
Dominika would need training, but she would be a top secret Russian spy that utilizes the art of seduction to earn trust, get information from targets, and infiltrate organizations. She reluctantly accepts the offer to provide for her mother and she goes through training. Once completed, she is given her first mission. She is to get close to an American CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). When the two meet, it seems like they have real chemistry and an attraction to one another. Are their feelings real, or is Dominika simply doing what she was trained to do?
The Pros & Cons
Jennifer Lawrence (+4pts)
Origin Story (-6pts)
The Premise (+3pts)
Joel Edgerton (+4pts)
Pro: Jennifer Lawrence (+4pts)
Overall, her performance will not blow you away here. This was an overall stale movie, but Jennifer Lawrence was able to give the movie barely enough life to keep me interested. During all the filler scenes, Jennifer Lawrence is nothing special. There are, however, plenty of harsh and twisted scenes in which Dominika must endure some cruel punishment.
Whether it is sexual agony (due to unwanted sexual experiences) or physical torture, Dominika does not have a very good time during the events of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence does a decent job of capturing the reluctance, fear, pain, and tragedy that this character experiences. Jennifer Lawrence is able to carry the audience through the movie due to these scenes alone. Again, the performance will not blow anyone away, but it was enough to keep me invested through the movie’s duration.
Con: Origin Story (-6pts)
A lot of this movie felt like filler. It was at its best when it was focusing on Dominika and Nate. The uncertainty of Dominika’s intentions was the most entertaining part of this movie. For some reason, the filmmakers decided that we needed a full origin story for the main character. The film was two hours, with about an hour and a half feeling like filler. We did not need to see Dominika dancing and we did not need to see the Sparrow school.
By giving us those things, the movie felt longer than it was. It felt slow, and focus was taken away from the relationship between Nate and Dominika. The filmmakers could have easily started the movie with Dominika being assigned to Nate. They could have spent the majority of the movie developing the relationship between the two characters which would have made the ending more impactful. Instead we got an almost meaningless origin story for the main character that used up precious screentime, when it could have been covered in five minutes worth of flashbacks.
Pro: The Premise (+3pts)
I think my favorite part of this movie was it’s premise. I was a little disappointed by the execution of the premise, but I was still interested in it. Dominika is assigned to get close to Nate. Nate knows she’s a Sparrow but takes a liking to her nonetheless. The mystery behind Dominika‘s intentions was my favorite part of this movie.
I was bummed that the filmmakers gave it so little focus, but not knowing if Dominika actually cared for Nate was compelling. Nate is trying to help her so the audience does not want to see him taken advantage of, but I could not help but think it was going to happen anyway. It became a bit of a guessing game as to whether or not she would betray him. It was a bit of fun, even though it did not get much attention.
Cons: Predictable (-6pts)
Have I mentioned that I enjoyed the premise of this movie? Well I did, but I was definitely disappointed with the execution for more than just the lack of focus that was given to the mystery of Dominika’s intentions. The filmmakers also made her intentions a bit too obvious. By getting her full origin story, we know her mindset fairly well.
The audience does not know with complete certainty, but we have a pretty good guess of which way Dominika will go. The filmmakers had a good premise here. Their first mistake was not giving it much focus, but their second mistake was taking a lot of the steam out of the mystery. By having a good idea of which way Dominika would go, the audience is just not as invested in the movie as they could have been.
Pro: Joel Edgerton (+4pts)
I liked Joel Edgerton quite a bit in this movie. Audiences may have a tough time relating to Dominika, due to her cold exterior, but will be able to relate to Nate. He is an American CIA agent tasked with being the point of contact for a Russian informant, but he ends up falling under Dominika’s spell. He knows who and what she is but wants to save her from her difficult situation. He may be a little naive but he is just trying to do the right thing and most audiences will connect with that.
Joel Edgerton always does a great job and I do not think he gets enough credit. He played a socially awkward psychopath but was able to flip the audiences emotions towards that character in The Gift. He plays the greedy corporate asshole in Gringo. He has played so many different characters throughout the years and there just is not time to mention them all. In this movie, he is the relatable center of the story. This is Dominika’s story but it is about her relationship with Nate. Nate is the character that audiences will connect with and will be rooting for. Joel Edgerton plays the role well and keeps the audience invested in the movie’s premise.
Con: Russia (-4pts)
Russia felt like one big stereotype in this movie. There was not one nice shot of the country. Everything looked cold, dark, and unpleasant. That does not even include the people. The Russian characters were the stereotypical mean Russian spies. They are pure evil and hate America. Do they have reasons for being this way? None that are explained in this movie. They were just bad for the sake of being bad and it felt like two hours of anti-Russia propaganda.
Imagine how much more interesting this movie would be if you understood both sides. Imagine if Dominika was torn between America (who’s government is trying to help her) and Russia (a country that she loves but with an overly harsh government program). Instead of getting an inner struggle, it seems that Dominika chose sides within the first thirty minutes. Rather than give us something different, the movie felt like one big stereotype which felt like lazy writing.
Grade: C- (70pts)
I had high hopes for Red Sparrow, but it ended up being a pretty big disappointment. The premise was certainly interesting. A Russian spy trained in the art of seduction to get close to her targets, and her target is a CIA agent who wants to save her from her harsh life. The mystery of not knowing her intentions was an interesting concept, but the filmmakers executed it poorly. They gave us too much of Dominika’s backstory. This was unnecessary, hurt the pacing of the movie, made the movie feel long, and it also gave away the mystery of the main character’s intentions because we knew what she was thinking.
Jennifer Lawrence did a good job of carrying the audience’s interest to the end. Some of her scenes felt lifeless but she did a great job during the more tragic moments. Joel Edgerton plays the character that audiences will relate to. The character is a little naive but is always trying to do the right thing. Joel Edgerton plays this role well and audiences will not have a problem connecting with the character as a result. In addition to these good performances, the movie has a good premise. Unfortunately the filmmakers dropped the ball on that premise and delivered a movie with a lot of problems. It is not bad, but it could have been a lot better.