Casual Rambling
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Casual Rambling

Movie Review: Red Sparrow

Rating: 2 Stars

Fair warning. I’m going to spend some effort and energy in the opening of this review by discussing Jennifer Lawrence. It is a fair proposition, is it not? Allow me to qualify.

If you’re watching Red Sparrow, it’s either because you’re interested in Jennifer Lawrence, or you have too much time on your hands. I sadly check off for both categories.

I joked in the beginning of my, A Quiet Place review, that I was deciding between watching the aforementioned Krasinski vehicle versus Red Sparrow. One of the selling points Lawrence gave for Red Sparrow is that she gets naked, which is a wildly effective marketing tool. How can I infer? The film grossed 150 million as of early June. I guaran-damn-tee you Joel Edgerton doing a spot on Ben Affleck from Gone Girl impression didn’t sell all those theater tickets now did he?

What makes Lawrence such a superstar in the film industry today is her enigmatic personality paired with her out-of-my-league girl next door looks. If you want to get a laugh at the colorful Lawrence speaking to a cardboard box, look up Lawrence’s interview with Kim Kardashian. In fact, I’ll place it below for your daily laugh.

Lawrence’s film career is swampy if you’re looking at it from a broad cliff notes perspective or for those who don’t like analogies, looking at it on IMDB. You may be fond of Lawrence if you like either the Hunger Games series or X-Men. I’m lukewarm to freezing cold on both. X-Men is definitely the series Lawrence should get out of considering it’s the bastard child of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. X-Men occupy a little galaxy Marvel throws a bone at every now and again to make a couple extra dimes.

Lawrence’s other exploits have been all over the critical scale. I can speak on Passengers and how it was a disappointment. I’m going to reach into my hot take bag and give you the one sentence J-Law analysis. Lawrence is a starlet with DiCaprio potential, but not the filmography to match.

Red Sparrow had shades and flashes of one of my all-time favorite films Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Downey’s Sherlock was a force of nature, and is based on a character with genius intellect and remains famous in today’s pop culture.

Lawrence plays Dominika Erogava, a young ballet dancer whose career is abruptly ended after snapping her leg in half. Red Sparrow is a grueling and gruesome film by the way. Director Francis Lawrence has the ability to make his audience squirm when he wants to.

Dominika is no Sherlock, and couldn’t be if she wanted to be. Sherlock has a well-established lore, and while Red Sparrow is based on a book, the book isn’t a cultural phenom. It’s important to note because in order to fully invest in Dominika as a character, you have to believe she has a justified goal she’s working toward.

Dominika does have an established goal, but the film’s writing muddies it up so much and so often that it becomes an afterthought as the plot mutates in its later stages. Dominika has to support her handicapped mother, and with no ballerina paychecks coming in, she turns to her uncle who works for the madly corrupt Russian government. The uncle’s plan is to turn Dominika into a Red Sparrow, a spy who uses seduction to get information from their targets. And by seduction, Red Sparrows are meant to use sex as a way to get information out of their targets.

The root concept is great, but just like Passengers had a great premise, the plot unravels over time. If you want to know Red Sparrow’s plot, read a synopsis, because I can’t be bothered. Basically, Lawrence decides to become a double agent as she has an American target who she needs to get the name of a mole from for the Russian government. Lawrence puts poor Sherlock to shame with her lasting ingenuity but here’s the error in that logic. If the protagonist is too clever beyond the realm of the viewer, there lies a wide detachment from viewer to protagonist. Dominika is so brilliant in her cunning plan, that we’re left in the dark as to what strings she is and isn’t pulling. The genius of a character like Sherlock is that he gives you a sense of direction without spoiling the epiphany.

Another string of detachment is tied in the whole double agent storyline. Red Sparrow spends much of its time flirting with, where do Dominika’s loyalties lie? With the Russians? Americans? Herself and her mother?

Red Sparrow makes a lot more sense as a book. Words can flesh out the thoughts of the main character. In a film, it’s the words and facial expression conveyed on screen that is our only understanding of who a character is. In book form, the plot can be dissected and obtained through careful study. In the film, the plot carries a straight path for a while until the branches grow too thick.

Red Sparrow may have been more effective if it was pruned to a compact hour and a half. Making Lawrence a more relatable and understandable character would have added some investment. Keep the core concept and the action set pieces and a simpler plot. The potential is there. Lawrence’s acting dominates the screen with her glowing presence. I can’t be a judge of her Russian accent so the best I have to offer is it sounded Russian enough to me.

Despite its faults, Red Sparrow offers suspense. Spies typically end up in pulse-pounding situations, even the ones that aren’t Tom Cruise jumping from trains onto helicopters. Suspense can be generated from the fear of getting caught knowing the penalty is death. Red Sparrow has enough suspense and drama to be an okay viewing experience versus a bad one.

I don’t like to visit here often, but I think an Uber to plothole city is worthy. Consider the stakes Dominika’s character is given. Dominika’s goal is to provide a safe environment for her mother. If Dominika’s uncle is aware that Dominika is bound by her mother, why doesn’t her uncle use that against her?

Yet another film that has a fascinating concept but is written away into obscurity. It’s hard to fully blame J-Law for signing onto these films. If you look at these ideas in written form, they sound cool. Space odyssey where two characters have to work out of a potential lifelong disaster. Spy thriller where a Russian agent has to seduce information out of people to secure her mother’s safety. Those are fair pitches. The products have been lackluster. Meet me back here in a month or two when I review Mother. If Aronofsky disappoints, then please offer me a shoulder to cry on.

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