Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most talented actresses out there. But this does
not mean that she always gets the best scripts, directors or roles. Of course
she was superb in
Winter’s Bone (still my favorite role for her),
American Hustle, and
Silver Linings Playbook. Unfortunately, every
other film she does is a forgettable mediocrity. The Hunger Games films are
decent (although they do not measure up to the film they probably ripped off,
Battle Royale.) But her turns as Mystique in the uneven X-Men films are badly
written and annoying. She shows up and derails the films with fake,
inspirational speeches to pull up the spirits of mutants. The films turned a
great complex comic villain or antihero into a boring one dimensional heroine.
Her recent movie Mother would have been great if they cut it down to an hour.
Which brings us to her newest project, Red Sparrow. It's an exploitative
disaster. Lawrence is not particularly convincing in the title role. Perhaps her
face has become too familiar. I never believed Lawrence as a Russian spy.
Throughout the whole film I kept thinking there is Jennifer Lawrence, and she is
speaking with a fake accent. Perhaps they should have gone with an unknown.
The film features some great actors in the supporting cast including Charlotte
Rampling (The Night Porter and The Verdict,), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds, Grand
Canyon and Goodbye Lover) and Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune and Damage), but
they are mostly wasted. although Irons has one great scene towards the end. It’s
a bit sad to see how far this fine, distinguished actor has fallen after his
long ago streak of greatness. Well there's always theatre.
The lead character obviously owes something to Marvel's The Avenger’s Russian
spy character. The film’s title’s consonant/vowel pattern even sounds like
"Black Widow". Red Sparrow (see?) is severely lacking in original thought, and
it artlessly and lazily recycles plot elements and characters from
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, La Femme
Nikita, and Point of No Return. Except all those films were fresher and smarter
than this time waster. There is nothing here that I have not seen before done
better a million times.
Despite the presence of a kickass female character this does not bear much
resemblance to the shallow but fun Atomic Blonde (not too be confused with
Suicide Blonde). It is closer in tone to the torture porn of Hostel and House.
The film was written by an ex CIA agent, but it too downbeat and demoralizing to
be a good recruitment tool. It does seem that the American spies here have more
of a moral compass than the sinister Soviet counterparts. There are a few
moments when the American spy Lawrence’s character falls for (he has an
alliterative name) seems to express genuine concern. But since he’s a spy
following an agenda we can never be sure.
Red Sparrow begins with a tragedy that leaves a promising ballet dancer
permanently physically impaired. After she witnesses a murder she must decide
between becoming an agent and dying. She is forced into being an agent by her
uncle Vanya of the Russian secret services (he is icily played by Bullhead star
Matthias Schoenarts.) The film does not seem to make much of a connection
between him and the classic Chekhov character. The Russian government turns her
into a Red Sparrow, a secret agent who excels in seduction and manipulation. Red
Sparrows also are trained to detect what someone else is missing so they can
change to fill the void. She is renamed Dominika Egorova and she winds up with
an experienced and unemotional female mentor (like La Femme Nikita). And she
eventually has to blackmail an abusive, harassing superior to get an upper hand
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and she also
has a male spy love interest (like Point of No Return). Dominika is assigned a
case involving an American spy with the comic bookish like name, Nate Nash (Joel
Edgerton). We know he is handsome, irresistible and desirable because
practically every woman in the film tells us so. He immediately figures out what
she is up to and he tries to get her to become a double agent, promising her
that she will get more autonomy, and that her mom will be protected if she
switches sides. She eventually has to choose between her loyalty to her country
and her freedom.
The film is only recommended for Jennifer Lawrence haters. They can get to see
her degraded and brutalized for over two hours (the film felt longer than the
ten hour Polish film, The Dekalog) in almost every way imaginable on screen.
Early in the film, Dominika is beaten by a pipe by Russian government officials.
She also has ice water thrown on her while she is naked. She is also beaten
until she has giant bruises on her body, and she is graphically raped on screen.
But the fun does not end there. Another scene has the male spy she might love
being tortured by an instrument ordinarily used for skin grafts. If you ever
wanted to hear the sound of a live man having his skin slowly peeled off layer
by layer this is the place. We also get to see a bloody female naked corpse in a
bathtub near a wall covered with blood,
After the revelations about Guantanamo Bay, audiences seem to tolerate more
casual torture in films. But after a certain point these scenes did not further
the plot anymore and the film crosses into sadism for its own sake. Red Sparrow
is an unoriginal, overlong, demoralizing piece of cinematic sewage which
represents a low point for most of the actors in the cast. 2018 is still young,
but so far it is the worst film I have seen this year.
Screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the book by
Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias
Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic
RED SPARROW © 2018 20th Century
Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.