Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
Assassins / murderers
Spies in the Bible
|Featuring:||Jennifer Lawrence … Dominika Egorova
Joel Edgerton … Nate Nash
Matthias Schoenaerts … Vanya Egorov
Charlotte Rampling … Matron
Mary-Louise Parker … Stephanie Boucher
Ciarán Hinds … Zakharov
Jeremy Irons … General Korchnoi
Joely Richardson … Nina Egorova
Bill Camp … Marty Gable
Thekla Reuten … Marta
Douglas Hodge … Maxim Volontov
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|Director:||Francis Lawrence—“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” Part 1-2 (2014, 2015), “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013), “Water for Elephants” (2011), “I Am Legend” (2007), “Constantine” (2005)|
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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
There are lots of things you could do with two hours and twenty minutes of your time. For instance, you could go for a seven-mile walk through your town. You could finally begin reading that book you’ve been telling yourself you’d one day start. You could (re)watch “Black Panther” and have a five-minute discussion afterward. You could sit in a waiting room for over an hour and a half and then finally be seen by the dentist. Or, you could drive over an hour to a fancy, reservation-only restaurant for dinner, only to realize you got the night wrong and have to drive back home, dejected and hungry. Any of these options would be preferable to subjecting yourself to the dreck that is “Red Sparrow.”
Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a prestigious dancer in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet. After suffering a harrowing injury on stage, she is faced with the prospect of losing the apartment she shares with her mother (Joely Richardson), and the health insurance her mother (who suffers from a mystery ailment that makes her talk quietly and constantly look concerned) needs to survive. Along comes her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works intelligence in the Russian government, with a proposition. If she can seduce a high-ranking politician and gather sensitive information, her uncle will make sure Dominika and her mother are taken care of.
The politician rapes Dominika in a hotel room, but he is murdered mid-rape by a mystery assailant who then transports her to an interrogation room. Shady Uncle Vanya appears to tell her that she should probably be shot for having witnessed the killing, but instead tells her he is going to send her to “spy school” where she will learn all the secrets to be an operative/asset of the government. She can avoid death this way, and he again promises if she follows through with her assignment, he will let her keep the apartment and her mom’s insurance.
Dominika agrees, and is sent to “spy school,” which could also be called “Charlotte Rampling’s Boarding School for Manipulation, Sexual Deviance, and Lock-Picking.” Here, Dominika is almost kicked out (which means being shot) for attacking a fellow cadet who tries to rape her, but Uncle Vanya convinces the government officials to send her to Budapest on a mission instead. He promises her that if she goes on the mission, you guessed it, he will ensure her and her mother’s health and security.
Her mission in Budapest is to make contact with a CIA operative named Nate (Joel Edgerton), who the Russians believe is getting secrets from a mole in the Russian government. All Dominika must do is get close enough to Nate to uncover the identity of the mole. A simple task, as long as she doesn’t run into any complications, like developing feelings for the CIA agent. Needless to say, it is not a simple task.
“Red Sparrow” is rated R for “strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.” Interestingly, language is strong in this movie, but it isn’t constant, like it is in many other movies of similar genre. What is constant in the film is violent and sexual content. Look—it’s pretty extreme: a naked couple having sex is beaten to death in a sauna, people have their skin flayed off, a man’s throat is cut while he is being strangled while he is raping a woman, a woman strips naked (not full frontal) and tells a would-be rapist to go ahead and rape her, but only if he will look her in the eyes, a man strips naked (full frontal) because he is told his body belongs to the government, and he must obey. And I could keep going. But I won’t.
Despite all that, there was a family of six seated across the aisle from me who brought their teenagers and a young girl of about 7. I have gone on rants about this before, so I won’t again here, but please, don’t take children to this. Or teenagers. Or yourself, for that matter.
This movie might sound relentlessly bleak and humorless. And it totally is. I’m not sure a single character ever once cracked a smile. But, worse, “Red Sparrow” is a monotonous slog. Lawrence and Edgerton, two otherwise excellent performers, have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s startling how little they bring to the screen together, or how little life either of them can individually inject into this movie. The filmmakers made the fatal mistake of thinking that, by casting two big-name stars, we will care about their plight. We don’t care. At all.
The script does them no favors either. I remember thinking at one point in the movie, “This dialog would sound ridiculous even without all the ridiculous-sounding accents.” The movie seems advertised as a spy action-thriller, but it’s not that in the slightest bit—it’s more of a heavy spy-drama with some bloody deaths and dismemberments. There is little action and no-thrills. Actually, there is one scene that nicely builds tension, but it immediately dissipates as the movie’s only interesting character gets hit by a truck. Although, I couldn’t help but be jealous of that character getting to escape the movie while I had to continue sitting through it. I’m also jealous of you, readers, if you heed my warning and choose not to see “Red Sparrow” and use your two hours and twenty minutes to do ANYTHING other than see this movie. Those are two hours and twenty minutes I won’t be getting back.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.