Movie Beat: Jennifer Lawrence only one of the many things wrong with “Red Sparrow”

By Jenniffer Wardell

Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity

Screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the novel by Jason Matthews

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Jeremy Irons and more

Grade: A half star


“Red Sparrow” is terrible according to every definition of the word.

The movie, which shamefully abuses and desecrates the award-winning novel of the same name, is an ugly, unpleasant mess that was also just really poorly made. The script is awful, the casting unfortunate, the acting mediocre at its very best, and the directing so uninteresting it was painful. Beyond that, the movie is so enamored with the degradation of women and a really violent, creepy, completely unsexy sexuality that I left the theater feeling like I’d just spent the last two hours wading through a sewer. I love action movies, and I love thrillers, but this movie is a slap in the face to both genres.

The movie opens with the grossest, least believable dance injury ever, which ends the career of a Russian prima ballerina played by Jennifer Lawrence. Thanks to her supremely creepy uncle, she gets forced into spywork and immediately proceeds on a trail of unfortunate sexual experiences where people die around her. At some point she runs into an American spy (played by Joel Edgerton), more people die, more unfortunate sex happens, and occasionally people actually care about finding the Russian mole that’s supposed to be the whole point of the movie.

Reviews describe the novel as being so full of twists and turns you never know who’s side anyone is on. The movie manages a single, solitary twist at the very end, but by then I was so incredibly bored that I’d already promised myself that I would physically leave the theater if she didn’t do something at least mildly surprising by a certain point in the movie.

Everything else feels more like Lawrence’s character stumbling blindly through a series of bad situations and just barely managing not to die. All of the other characters kept saying what an “amazing” spy she was, but the only time she ever showed an ounce of good spycraft or even cleverness onscreen was in service of that final twist.

The overwhelmingly low quality sometimes distracts from how genuinely unpleasant the tone of the movie is. In the books Lawrence’s character is genuinely a master spy, always in control of the situation, but in the movie she’s mostly just a victim. Every ounce of sensuality has been drained from the sex scenes, one of which becomes an actual onscreen rape, and the entire thing between Lawrence’s character and her uncle is horrifying on so many levels. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing Jennifer Lawrence naked, this movie is designed to punish you for that impulse.

The single half star the film earned was through the valiant efforts of the poor cinematographer and the sheer likeability of Joel Edgerton. I’m not sure how well Edgerton actually acted – the fact that he came across as a believable human put him head and shoulders above pretty much everyone else – but he remained the most interesting, non-horrifying thing onscreen no matter what idiocy the script was demanding of him. Even if he didn’t put much effort into it, he was an oasis I the desert.

As for the third definition of terrible, I’ll admit – the movie never generates enough dramatic tension to come close to inspiring terror in me. But the fact that some people out there are giving it positive reviews? That definitely qualifies.


(photo © 20th Century Fox)

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