The first reviews for Red Sparrow are coming in following early screenings for critics. The 2018 thriller reunites The Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence with former franchise star, Jennifer Lawrence, in an R-rated spy story based on the 2013 Red Sparrow novel written by former CIA officer Jason Matthews. Although Lawrence’s career spans a variety of movies across multiple genres, this new film is a decidedly different type of film for the actress.
Red Sparrow tells the story of ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) being compelled to join the Sparrow School and work for the Russian intelligence service as an operative – a sparrow, who’s a master in seduction and manipulation, not to mention various forms of combat. At some point in the film, Egorova falls in love with CIA operative Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton). She, then, considers turning on her country and becoming a double agent for the United States, but whether she does or not is what the crux of the film is about.
The embargo for Red Sparrow has now lifted, and the first reviews have flooded online. We’ve compiled SPOILER-FREE excerpts (below) along with links back to the original reviews for those who want to read the full reviews themselves.
The Wrap – Alonso Duralde
I’m sorry, “Red Sparrow,” but you can’t just throw out a brilliantly terrible line like “You sent me to whore school!” — spit out angrily by Jennifer Lawrence, in a Russian accent, no less — and then not live up to that level of wildness for your entire running time. Neither intelligent enough to be involving nor fun enough to be trashy, this is a movie that would only work if it were a little worse or a lot better.
THR – John DeFore
A sex-and-spycraft yarn built for Cold War 2.0 — despite displaying next to no awareness of current tech, arguably this cold war’s defining ingredient — Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow sometimes seems to target the sort of Jennifer Lawrence fan who feels the recent Mother! didn’t pay sufficient attention to the star’s lightly clothed curves. What would a spy flick be without the male gaze? Well, it’d be something like John Le Carre — which this film, despite its focus on the strategic acquisition of foreign assets, definitely is not. Striking a sometimes uneasy balance between trust-no-one espionage and sensationalism, Sparrow seems likely to attract a fairly large audience but leave few moviegoers fully satisfied.
IndieWire – Eric Kohn
With so many solid ingredients, it’s unfortunate that “Red Sparrow” doesn’t know when to stop, sagging into bland torture scenes and an underwhelming final showdown in its concluding act. Ever here, however, the movie resonates with a precise topicality for an audience reeling from the exhumed shadow of the Soviet threat. It’s a near-subversive maneuver to cast the world’s biggest star as an ostensible villain, whose complicated relationship to her job is all the more chilling because it ends on a state of complete ambiguity — with no clear end in sight.
Variety – Owen Gleiberman
The basic set-up is simple (will Dominika sniff out the mole?), but “Red Sparrow” has enough tangles and reversals to be a fully satisfying night out. It’s more talk than action, and that’s a good thing. … Edgerton makes Nash a down-to-earth operative, noble in his impulses but far from a superman. And Lawrence’s Dominika is gripping, because she has to keep improvising. She’s been trained to survive, and does, wriggling out of everything from extreme torture to gross come-ons from her boss. But is she calling the shots, or are the shots calling her?
Slant – Ed Gonzalez
The filmmakers may keep Dominika at arm’s length from the audience, but Jennifer Lawrence makes hay of having to play a walking enigma. The way that Dominika is at once completely transparent and at the same time impossible to read is Red Sparrow‘s most intriguing through line, not least of which for the way that Lawrence makes you grasp the canny mental gymnastics that her character has to do in order for everything that she says to be at once truth and obfuscation. The actress constantly operates in a less bludgeoning register than the film, which is only really concerned with the matter of Dominika’s allegiances and how the mechanics of the twisty plot keeps that suspense percolating. Lawrence provocatively regards us as her only allies, tipping us off in the subtlest of ways to the reality that Dominika’s only allegiance is to the blunt force of her avenging body.
The Guardian – Benjamin Lee
What will audiences make of Red Sparrow? It’s a tough sell: a bleak two hour-plus Russian thriller with graphic rape and torture. It’s also surprisingly low on action, choosing talkiness over more audience-pleasing mayhem. It doesn’t entirely work, but there’s something about its full-throttle nastiness that lingers, and it’s refreshing to see something that exists in the studio system that possesses so many queasily perverse elements. It’s just not quite as seductive as it thinks it is.
Critics seem to be in two minds on Red Sparrow. On one hand, they applaud the film for its tense sequences as well as treating audiences with respect instead of feeding them all the information. On the other hand, though, it seems for all its pluses, the film is still quite shallow in terms of storytelling and payoff. Viewers who go into the theater expecting to see a new Atomic Blonde will be disappointed, but those who are expecting a pinch of that with a story resembling Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be more inclined to enjoy the film as a whole. That’s neither bad nor good, but it does put off a big portion of the moviegoing audience who were expecting something else from the R-rated adaptation.
What’s interesting is that not many critics are drawing comparisons between Red Sparrow and Marvel’s Black Widow. Recently, Red Sparrow came under fire when Marvel fans noticed certain similarities between the film’s titular character and the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, particularly that Lawrence’s Egorova and Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow are both Russian spies that undergo brain-washing – but that’s the extent of their connections. Overall, it seems Red Sparrow is able to differentiate itself from the crowd and provide audiences with an intelligent story, just perhaps one that’s light on the action.
Source: Various (see links)
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