Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Even if Red Sparrow hadn’t been beaten to the punch by the far-better Atomic Blonde seven months ago, it still wouldn’t be worth the time of day.
As movies go, it’s a grisly horror show that’s as bleak and boring and uninviting as the Russian winter in which it's set. As female-driven kick-ass spy flicks go, it’s even worse—serving no purpose other than giving Jennifer Lawrence a chance to get naked and completely undermine her (justified) anger at the 2014 hack that resulted in nude photos of her being published online. Yes, she maintains her nude scenes in Red Sparrow are about her taking control and doing it on her own terms, but it still feels gratuitous at best and downright ridiculous at worst.
Based on the novel by ex-CIA operative Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow centers on Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova, who is introduced as a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. After three overly-bloody events—a hideous injury, a double-murder, and a rape—she is blackmailed by her uncle Ivan, a higher-up in the Russian SVR, into being trained as a Sparrow. That means she gets sent off to “whore school”, as she puts it, to learn how to seduce bad men into giving them the information that Mother Russia wants.
While all this is going on, we’re also following CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is in Moscow trying to protect a mole in the Russian government. Of course we know Dominika and Nate’s professional (and personal) lives will eventually collide, but why it takes an eternity to finally happen is beyond me.
The lifeless screenplay by Justin Haythe (The Lone Ranger) is so full of sluggish set-up and exposition that by the time Red Sparrow gets around to its unfulfilling climax (long past the two-hour mark), it’s impossible to even care about how it all wraps up. And then the surprise “twist ending”, which even a third-grader could see from a mile off, adds absolutely nothing. In fact it may actually hurt the movie, since it’s borderline insulting that anyone would even consider it a twist at all.
Director Francis Lawrence, who shepherded J.Law through the last three Hunger Games movies, is the biggest culprit; Apparently he went into the project hoping to shake any preconceived notions people had about him (if they had any) and emerge as an edgy director unafraid to get down and dirty. All he did, though, was throw some stuff up on the movie screen that would make Tarantino cry uncle, including extended torture scenes do nothing but make the audience flinch and look away in disgusted horror. If we don’t care about a character, Mr. Lawrence, we’re not going to care if we see them tortured. In fact, we may actually find ourselves rooting for it.
There are so many ways Red Sparrow could have been done better, from the vapid script to the uninspired acting, from the over-reliance on hollow shock-value moments to the stale, Cold War-ish story. And every single one of them was, in fact, done better in Atomic Blonde. And Salt. And La Femme Nikita. Heck, even Harriet the Spy at least has a few things going for it.