(Tune in next week when I review “Brown Bear,” followed in suit by “Blue Catfish.”)
There is a lot to like with Red Sparrow. Its commitment to its tone brandishes a fine mix of philosophical interpretations with basic pleasures, all the while setting the stage for its star, Jennifer Lawrence, to give the performance of her lifetime. Prominently feminist in the background, it also alludes to the benefit of empathy in a world of constant self-servitude—paraded as patriotism.
Even with its somewhat longer runtime, the mood never drops itself into the sea of monotony; every word feels important, as though integral to the very essence of the film’s moral coding. It’s easy to pay attention when the weight of each situation constantly grows as Lawrence’s character’s situation darkens.
One can easily make the analogy that her life, trapped by the constant male dominator, is embedded with those who suffer at the hands of abuse or familial turmoil. The profession of Red Sparrow is to display how she makes her daring escape.
In the spirit of deceit, used so prominently throughout the film, there are things that I had painted up to this point as positive, but there are harsher opposites that these words can embody. This commitment to its own puzzle, its own metaphorical story of female empowerment, throws the controlled spirit of the film’s pace and mood into awkward situations.
In one part of the film, an aid to a prominent American political figure is exiting a hotel with eyes watching her every move. The camera moves to reveal many angles in which she is being watched—the audience expects she is about to be killed. After stepping out onto the road, a vehicle backs up near her as a man exits the backside and approaches her, she hesitates and steps back, when a horn suddenly blares and the next thing she knows, she’s flattened by a truck, Scary Movie style.
I laughed audibly.
Scenes such as this, which hover around the edge of unintentionally humorous, become more prominent as Red Sparrow moves along. Not only that, but the logical consistencies begin to snap, too; the leaks in believability hiss in error within the viewer’s mind. With a film so dark in tone, so grotesque in its presentation of de-humanizing people, they certainly don’t make them very bright, either.
One such way is the constant trust people place in Lawrence’s character, who was literally trained to deceive. Some characters make note of it: “She’s a sparrow,” they say. One would think that through the training they receive, the reputation they have, that they would be a little extra cautious with their handling of things. When the Russians begin to grow impatient with her unorthodox manner of espionage, they simply give her more time. When she’s shown to be a threat, they keep her alive.
Same goes for the American adversaries. They see her as a threat (save one person), yet they do nothing about it, despite keeping constant surveillance. Little things, such as willingly giving her weapons or trusting her with important documentation, becomes a groan from the audience because they figure she’ll turn on her superiors.
Her main motivation, her ailing mother, is surprisingly absent from this film. Prominent in the start, her essence wains as the scenes involving Lawrence’s spy work becomes more ingrained. One would think that she would be more telling of it, whether in thoughts or conversation, but it’s only brought up in the most crucial of scenes.
I, at one point, completely forgot about her mother about an hour and a half in. If Red Sparrow is guilty of anything, it is trying to do too much: too much burying of underlying signs and winks and not enough foundation for how it all makes sense at surface level.
Lawrence isn’t enough, the tone isn’t enough; Red Sparrow suffers from trying to fit ten pounds of depth into a five-pound storage container. The longer runtime helps, but time spent giving Lawrence’s character every opportunity to slip up and redeem herself, while also planning her inevitable escape, makes the resolutions feel off. What I said before was no lie: there is a lot to like here.
What to like, unfortunately, is plastered with fallacies and easy cop-outs for the sake of plot progression, alongside characters who maybe could have used a little more development. Not an overall poor experience, but one I wouldn’t see again.
Final Score: 5.5/10