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“Red Sparrow” fails to take flight
March 20, 2018
Red Sparrow has received wide notability, probably due to both its original book’s success and highly acclaimed actress, Jennifer Lawrence. With no previous background, the film summarizes its plot as a late ballerina taking role as a spy for the Russian Intelligence service.
The film showcases an interesting storyline as events are surrounded by espionage and the question of “Who do you trust?” It develops a sense of anxiety because punishments for characters are real.
Screenwriter Justin Haythe was given the job of bringing the award-winning book, “Red Sparrow,” by Jason Matthews to the big screen. Matthews managed to avoid the trap that many book adaptations to movies suffer, which is rushed or missing plot points that degrades in emotional quality.
This film justifiably is rated R. Along with dark depictions of torture and violence, Red Sparrow is littered with graphic scenes of rape of nudity.
Red Sparrow opens with Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a legendary Russian ballerina, encountering an accident during a show that ends her dancing career. Desperate to keep her house and get her mother’s medicine, Dominika accepts her uncle Vanya Egorov’s (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) offer to join the Russian Intelligence service as a Sparrow, a seductress and spy. The story then follows Dominika through her brutal and violating training for her to be then recruited into a new mission, find and infiltrate the CIA mole.
As almost traditional with spy films, characters are pushed to the brink with risks, secrets, betrayals, and twists. This can make the plot confusing and some characters are difficult to keep track of, but also makes it more anxious since the audience won’t know who is or is not trustworthy. Overall, all the necessary emotion-connected characters are recognizable enough.
Locations throughout the film are brilliantly done. Even with many areas depicted as drab crossroads and streets, production designer Maria Djurkovic makes all the scenes feel full and real. In a rich and luxurious theater or a raining airplane strip, Djurkovic’s visual direction added character to each location. Such contrasting styles of gold-plated wall décor or dirty streets fits with the style of the film’s harsh reality.
Working with cinematographer Jo Willems also helped shoot magnificent angles of actors within the environment as well. A strong moment is found in the movie’s introduction, where a famous ballerina performance is taking place while CIA operative Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton) escapes from the local police. When Dominika takes stage, the camera aims from behind the performance, where light engulfs her while a darkened audience watches. The golden accents surrounding the stage and the vastness of the room and people are wonderfully captured. It’s accompanying sequence of Nate’s rough night chase among cluttered alleyways and packed traffic adds an appealing introduction.
There is little to connect to the characters. The shockingly graphic attacks committed early in the film lose reason after repetitive use. Exhibited fear from Dominika loses its impact over time, as otherwise she is an emotionless character. Vanya, as well as other top Russian Intelligence leaders, do create the cold analytical atmosphere necessary for the film’s topics. They also make themselves obviously evil; practically all are unanimous in positioning themselves as dangerous villains.
Equally confusing is how Nate’s character is handled in the story. His emotions and appeals seem to drift apart from her. One moment he will do anything for her safety while another time he refuses her presence entirely. The conflict is understandable as espionage and secrets are critical in the plot, but it hinders whatever interactions they made to conclude in the illusion of attraction.
For a shortened story, the relationship feels cut and empty, and are missed opportunities in the film to create the steps required for the story’s human connections to fully present themselves overshadow the strong cinematograph and writing points.
Any hope the film has to get off the ground is lost in the distracting and uncomfortable graphic scenes, or quick meaningful interactions that are forgotten right after a random action sequence.