" unoriginal, overlong, demoralizing piece of cinematic sewage..."

A low point for everyone involved

(031718) 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 (like 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.

Directed by:  Francis Lawrence
Written by:  Screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the book by Jason Matthews
Starring:   Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts
Released:  032018
Length: 140 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity

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RED SPARROW ©  2018 20th Century Fox
Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.