RED SPARROW (2018) Movie Review – An Espionage Thriller Minus the Thrills
Red Sparrow is an espionage thriller which brings together director Francis Lawrence and star Jennifer Lawrence after their work together on the three most recent Hunger Games films. The film follows Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) who enlists in Sparrow School, a Russian secret intelligence service in which she learns to use the power of seduction as a weapon. Her first mission tasks her with obtaining crucial information from a C.I.A agent (Joel Edgerton). I wasn’t excited to see this movie going into it as the trailers didn’t really grab me in the way I expected an espionage thriller to do so. And as it turns out, neither did the film. The problems with this film have nothing to do with the performances or the cinematography, the blinding flaws have to do almost exclusively with the story and the overall pace it runs at.
The film is a little lengthy at 2 hours and 20 minutes, for an espionage thriller there should be a certain level of urgency pushing the plot forward at a constantly progressing pace… this doesn’t have that. The story lacks any sort of dramatic intensity and aside from one or two sequences late in the film I just wasn’t invested in this character’s journey. Dominika’s journey takes a good while to really kick into gear and even when it does it’s a slow and long-winded one to where it became slightly wearisome and boring going into the third act. But that being said, the story itself isn’t as overly complex as most espionage thrillers which feel the need to flip the tables on us every couple of minutes. As a result it’s quite easy to follow in terms of who’s who and which side everyone is on so the ending does have a pretty decent payoff if you pay a fair amount of attention during the earlier acts. So where the story falters really is with the execution, if it was tightened up and the runtime cut down to maybe 2 hours at the most it could have made the journey more worthwhile sitting through in order to get to the decent reward at the end.
I don’t really have any major quarrels with the performances and they’re definitely the highlights of the film. Jennifer Lawrence does her best here to sell us on this strong yet damaged female role and her dedication shines through regardless of the fact that most of what is happening isn’t really that engaging. Her Russian accent I will say isn’t that great and pretty distracting throughout but there are times where the emotion of her performance sort of makes you forget about it. Joel Edgerton on the other hand is probably my favourite part of the movie, he features more heavily in the back half as oppose to the first act or so but when he is on screen I did enjoy his character. I cared about following him more-so than I cared about following Lawrence’s story but the scenes they share together are the better amongst the crap. The rest of the supporting roles are fine and there’s a pretty talented group of performers behind them. Matthias Schoenaerts, Ciarán Hinds, and Jeremy Irons to name a few all have good limited roles in the film.
The stylised cinematography from Jo Willems is also a surprising highlight. He really does bring a lot of the scenes to life with some astonishing interior and exterior shots of the various filming locations. It does evoke a luxurious yet at the same time gritty feel that goes hand in hand with some of the pretty brutal and bloody violence which thankfully didn’t feel gratuitous or over the top.
In the end Red Sparrow is one espionage thriller I wouldn’t necessarily recommend just because where the story is easier to follow than most it still isn’t executed with a quick enough pace to hook you and bring you along for the ride. Jennifer Lawrence is strong in the lead role, and is accompanied by an equally as strong if not better performance from Joel Edgerton, but they’re not enough to carry the film on their own. I feel like screenwriter Justin Haythe and director Francis Lawrence had a clear vision for what they wanted the film to be and I can see some of that but something got lost in translation and the result isn’t quite there. Also, a small interesting observation I made is that the majority of the major Russian characters are portrayed by non-Russian actors and then the main American role is done by an Australian actor, oh Hollywood.