Movie Review: Red Sparrow
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Director: Francis Lawrence
by Jason Koenigsberg
If you watch Jennifer Lawrence’s new film Red Sparrow and see a story of a strong woman bravely fighting against a system and corrupt government made of men, you would be accurate. If you watch it and see a sick exploitation film with gratuitous violence and nudity you would not be wrong either. Red Sparrow is very loose with its message but it is undeniably entertaining and therefore deserves to be seen and discussed. At the very least you will enjoy watching the action and espionage onscreen for two and a quarter hours.
The opening shot is of our heroine, or anti-heroine, played by Jennifer Lawrence. It is a medium shot, straight at her face with her eyes closed and earbuds on. At a glance it may seem like a very uninteresting way to start an action film, but the first shot tells the audience that our main character is going through her life thus far with her eyes closed and not listening to the world around her. She will soon have her eyes, ears, and other parts of her body wide open to a dangerous new world that she will be forced to take part in. The first few scenes the photography has a cold, blue tint. The cinematography quickly expands after a few minutes with a lush and vibrant color palette as we see our main character is a nationally renowned ballerina. The majority of Red Sparrow takes place in Russia and Eastern Europe and Jennifer Lawrence sports a shaky Russian accent that the viewer will eventually accept and get used to. It is a brave performance from the actress but not necessarily her best.
Lawrence plays a strong and malicious character recruited by the Russian government to be a secret agent and do whatever is necessary to obtain information from enemies of the state. Her casting was really vital to this film because of the amount of sex and violence on display in Red Sparrow. The bloody carnage at times feels brutal and relentless which is highly uncommon in big budget R-rated studio productions. Much like her last film Mother (2017) the studio was likely only willing to let this movie be released as it is because of her involvement. She is at a point in her career where she is a box office sensation, already has an Oscar, and is still only in her twenties. She has enough power to make practically whatever movie she wants to be in.
Red Sparrow reunites Ms. Lawrence with Francis Lawrence (no relation to the best of my knowledge) who directed her in several of the Hunger Games pictures. Make no doubt about this films mixed messages, Red Sparrow movie is vastly superior to any of the Hunger Games movies they collaborated on and it is Francis Lawrence’s best film since he directed the Will Smith apocalyptic sci-fi thriller I am Legend (2007).
The way Blank Panther feels very much like a product of 2018, Red Sparrow feels like it could have been made in 1988. A relic from the Cold War and fits in more with action-thrillers from thirty years ago. Red Sparrow is like a throwback picture with a modern, digital look. I wish the cinematography was a bit more grainy and was actually shot on 70mm film. The music score by James Newton Howard also had a retro feel with a lot of the calm scenes accompanied by music that was reminiscent of a Bernard Herrmann score to a Hitchcock film.
Jennifer Lawrence plays seductive expertly and looks as beautiful in Red Sparrow as she has in any of her other films. This time her gorgeous appearance and sultry costumes are intricate to the plot where she uses her sexuality to seduce men to get what she needs from them and exposes their weaknesses. It could be looked at as feminist message or a film that sets women back to being objects of desire. Regardless, it delivers what most people buying a ticket will want. An action packed spy thriller with twists and turns and above average performances from not only Jennifer Lawrence, but also the talented supporting cast with Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Bill Camp, Mary-Louise Parker, and Charlotte Rampling. The twists do expect the audience to believe some elaborate plot contrivances. Some of the turns the characters make could seem illogical because of a manipulative screenplay, especially near the end. However maybe the script was meant to manipulate the audience the way Jennifer Lawrence’s character does to most of the people she comes into contact with. Whatever Red Sparrow tried to be, it succeeds as a big budget action thriller with a throwback feel.