Finally, eight years after her debut in Iron Man 2, Black Widow is getting her own movie.
Wait, what? Red Sparrow? What the hell is that?
Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a ballerina that suffers a horrific injury, ending her career. Unfortunately, the ballet company paid for her apartment as well as medicine and care for her ailing mother, Nina (Joely Richardson). Presented with few options, Dominika is approached by her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), a higher-up in the Russian government, to join the Sparrow Program where young Russian men and women go to become spies. However, these spies rely solely on their sexuality to extract information from their targets. Dominika excels at being a Sparrow and is assigned to learn the identity of a mole in the Russian government. Her target is Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), a CIA operative running the mole until an information exchange gone wrong forces Nash off the assignment and the mole into hiding. As Dominika works to extract information from Nash, she drops hints that she may be willing to switch sides. Is Dominika telling the truth or is she just getting ready to betray Nash to climb the Russian hierarchy?
While Red Sparrow isn’t exactly Black Widow, the similarities are a little tough to ignore. The film is adapted from Jason Matthews’ novel of the same name and it directed by Francis Lawrence, who worked with Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) on the initial Hunger Games film. Red Sparrow can be classified as “good, not great.” The cast is stellar and I enjoyed the whole cat and mouse nature of the story. I was never completely sure where Dominika’s true loyalties were and that kept me engaged throughout. However, the premise, at times, feels a little tacked on for the sake of shock value. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a female character having agency over her body and sexuality, but I would argue that this doesn’t describe Dominika at all. Her body essentially belongs to the Russian government and they tell her where and when she’s going to use it. That’s the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute. So, the whole thing becomes a little gratuitous. It’s even more egregious when you consider the film’s running time—149 minutes. This one definitely feels its length and that’s due in part to all the sexual training scenes. I wasn’t totally sold on the potential romance between Dominika and Nash either. I know the audience is supposed to be unclear on her loyalties, but the romance angle kind of felt unearned.
The best part of the film is the cast gathered here. I really enjoyed Lawrence’s performance. She plays Dominika as detached, which is probably why her uncle believes she’ll succeed as a Sparrow, but when emotion is needed, she delivers. Edgerton is good as Nash, but there’s nothing especially memorable about the role itself. Schoenaerts is extremely creepy as Dominika’s uncle, which works for his character. The supporting cast is pretty impressive with Charlotte Rampling as Matron, the head of the Sparrow Program. Jeremy Irons adds his gravitas as Russian General Korchnoi. Mary-Louise Parker has a couple of nice scenes as a senator’s aide trying to sell secrets. Ciarán Hinds is also good in his few scenes as Schoenaerts’ boss and Bill Camp is good when he shows up, but I would have liked more of his obnoxious CIA agent as a foil to Nash. I will say, though, that the Russian accents are bit dodgy all the way around—probably the result of not having anyone really speak Russian all that much.
Overall, Red Sparrow isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. It definitely feels too long and that means the story isn’t as compelling as it should be. The script needed some tightening to make this one as taut as possible.