RED SPARROW (2018, R, 140 minutes, CHERNIN ENTERTAINMENT/20TH CENTURY FOX)
I am a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence, despite her attempts to thwart me. I’m referring mostly to all that HUNGER GAMES crap; it wasn’t that she was horrible, so much as the films were (okay, the two that I saw…).
Since her Oscar winning turn as a mentally troubled widow in THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, a part of me has wished only the best for her. She so perfectly captured a tender vulnerability behind a crass exterior that she entranced me—not to the point where she needs to get a restraining order or anything, but still… she was awesome.
With RED SPARROW, I fear that her need to stretch herself in her craft could be detrimental to my emphatic belief that she is my soulmate. Again, she isn’t bad in the film—it just never feels like it gets off the ground, and that her character doesn’t really progress all that much. Ms. Lawrence plays Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova, who is coerced into working for her uncle after a tragic accident onstage. The uncle happens to work for the government, and what he wishes for his demure niece is for her to become a sex spy. Seriously. So he sends her to Russian Spy Sex Camp. Where she is trained to remove off her clothing and other important Sex Spy stuff.
I’m sure that the script by Justin Haythe was better than the finished product. After all, the man did write the script for THE LONE RANGER…(see: sarcasm) I’m sure that most of the blame can be laid upon the music video shoulders of director Francis Lawrence—the man responsible for three of the HUNGER GAMES films. It is the screenwriter’s job to lay out a compelling story, and it is the director’s job to interpret that tale for the big screen. But there are too many problems here, much that weighs down the film. There is an oppressiveness which hangs over the proceedings, and it isn’t easy to ignore.
First off: the lack of Russian actors. There are some, but they are not cast in key roles. While it is great to see Jeremy Irons (DEAD RINGERS, BATMAN V SUPERMAN) still chewing scenery, and Joely Richardson still getting work, the fact that they are both cast as Russians brings to mind the “Hollywood whitewashing” scandal of Ridley Scott’s Egyptian epic EXODUS. Were there no actors that wouldn’t have to try so hard at nailing a convincing accent available from that country? Lately, that seems to be the answer to every casting director’s dilemma: hire British, Irish, or Danish actors/actresses to play the role of any type of foreigner. Even Ms. Lawrence seems to have issues maintaining the accent, and there are too many fingers to point to lay it all upon the actor.
Another problem is character development, in that there isn’t any. Dominika loses the deer-in-the-headlights look after fifteen minutes of screen time; after that, she becomes demure, stoic, sexy—all attributes she had as a ballerina, but there are little or no correlations to string the two together. Not necessarily Ms. Lawrence’s fault, as she has to work with whatever is given her. Unfortunately, that includes her first nude scene in her cinematic career, and while I certainly do appreciate it, I feel it is a wasted effort, one which would have served her better in a more poignant or meaningful film. The display is used as shock value, but it also isn’t necessary (says the guy secretly wishing he could bear her children…).
And yet another problem is the pacing; even after the credits were done rolling, I was still waiting for the film to actually start—to move me, to pick up a pace other than a decent spy novel that you could put down at any time and pick back up on it a week later, not having lost any of the momentum yet still curious to see how things panned out. There just never seems to be a moment when the film moves into high gear.
The last issue I will bother pointing out is possibly the most glaring: everyone in the film seems to know that everyone else is a spy. There are no secrets here. The fact that Dominika is given a new identity that is found out five minutes after she is given it is a waste of the viewer’s time. Is the subplot really all that necessary if it is debunked by the “enemy” three scenes later?
There are four redeeming qualities here: Haythe’s writing on occasion is fluid enough to make you feel like the story is going somewhere (even if it doesn’t), and the score by James Newton Howard (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, NIGHTCRAWLER) is effective and emotional. The other two things? Already mentioned three paragraphs ago…look, I’m old, not dead.
What this all amounts to—look, I’m about to say something here that I never thought I would ever have to write or say aloud during my entire life. It pains me to think these words, let alone commit them to paper (or on the internet, where the words will live forever, haunting me way past my death, at which point those words will be haunting my children).
But say them I must, and if I ever have to say them again, I may have to give up on these mediocre reviews I write every week.
This was a waste of boobies.
-- T.S. Kummelman