An Interesting Concept
We've seen it many times in Hollywood movies since the Cold War was fully active in the second half of the 20th century, but Red Sparrow brings a new, interesting twist to the historically based sleeper-agent side of international espionage. In most films spanning the last four to five decades, a sleeper agent has primarily been a side character, or at best, an action-centered protagonist/antagonist who has no problem "getting down" to business. But for seemingly the first time (although I doubt it's the absolute first time, but perhaps first time in a wide theatrical release), we see the more twisted side of sleeper agent coercion, training and recruitment.
Red Sparrow follows an often inconsistent Russian woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence, as she is transformed from revered dancer to a lost opportunity from injury, to a sleeper agent. Now before I use the term again and for those without context of what a sleeper agent is, it's effectively someone who uses the power of seduction to coerce opposing parties to forgive information voluntarily (or at least put them in a heightened state of extreme vulnerability socially, emotionally, and in some cases physically).
Back to the review. Lawrence, through no real apparent fault of her own, is placed purposefully in the wrong place at the wrong time by her uncle, a perverted and twisted mastermind of Russian secret intelligence espionage. She is asked to escort a well known government authority to his bedroom, wherein he begins to rape Lawrence. After a moment into the altercation, an assassin appears and kills the ill-meaning man. Lawrence at first believes herself to be saved, however she is soon informed that "no witness can be left behind". I.e., she must either allow herself to be killed, or become a body owned by the government. She opts for the latter for the sake of her mother.
We follow Lawrence down a dark, dark path of transformation that she never truly completes. Without spoiling too much, her first real target outside of Sparrow training is a man she almost immediately falls in love with, and this becomes the central conflict of the story (country vs. self, or at least country's wants vs. self's wants). While the movie remains incredible dark and dramatic, there are a few brief but satisfying action scenes.
The Problems with Red Sparrow
I've seen quite a bit of distaste for the movie after reading a few other reviews online (to preface this, I read no reviews prior to my viewing of the movie, and the bulk of this piece was written before I read any online. But as always, take anybody's opinion with a large grain of salt).
While I definitely have my issues with the movie, which (as mentioned above) include Lawrence's inability to maintain a consistent Russian accent (at times it is very strong, others natural, and in many just non-existent), the pacing of the film, and some of the initial plot setup, I don't feel it is as bad as many critics are saying it is.
And to be honest, I feel that most of it's issues (excluding the accent) could have been solved with a longer run-time. Yes, I said it. A movie that clocks in at just under two and a half hours is too short. Why? Because I feel that the pacing was off due to lost details (who are these people? Why are they here? How did we go from them to these other people?). Seeing as the film was based off a book (one I have admittedly not read), I can all but guarantee these missing details were included there. While I'm unfamiliar with the production process of this particular project, including original run times of a full edit, I can only imagine that the movie must have been significantly shortened for theatrical release reasons (budget, theater showings, etc.).
One may argue that "how could you know that without having read the screenplay? Hmm?!!!". While watching the movie, it is incredibly evident that certain scenes were glossed over too quickly (a lot of the American agents prep and briefing seemed super short and his character development with his superiors seemed established but hastened), or left out entirely (the Red Sparrow school sections of the film seemed shorter than they should have been considering this would have been the formulation period for Jennifer Lawrence's transition into a sleeper agent. It is just too obvious that scenes were removed for edit time).
Overall, Red Sparrow is worth taking a look at if only for the strength of it's concept that the Cold War never truly ended and the age of espionage only escalated so far out of the public eye that now it exists within the bedrooms of Iron Curtain era cities like Budapest, and unfortunately continued to take along victims with it.
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Review by Steve Douglas, Chief Creative Officer and Producer for Tek5.org.
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