I now know the official run time for any film is from the first distributor logo to the final frame of the end credits; I discovered this because not even half-way through “Red Sparrow,” I looked up what run time meant, so I would know how much longer I had to sit through the film.
“Red Sparrow” is a spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, a former ballet dancer recruited into the Sparrow program after a sabotage planned by her fellow dancers leaves her with a severely broken calf. To keep her apartment and her sick mother’s health plan, Egorova takes up an offer by her uncle, Vanya Egorov, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, to seduce and manipulate a powerful politician and swap his phone with a bugged phone. Except, when she does manage to seduce him, an agent comes to kill him without her knowing, to which she is escorted to an abandoned warehouse, where it is revealed killing him was the plan all along.
Egorova’s uncle then gives her an ultimatum, join the Sparrow program, a group of intelligence agents specifically designed to use their bodies and psychological evaluation skills to extract intelligence from targets. Eventually, she is tasked with tracking down a mole in the Russian government who’s only known contact is American C.I.A agent Nate Nash, played by Joel Edgerton.
Spy stories just do not work well with a film format, unless the story is straightforward enough or the film takes the time to explain explicitly what is going on.
As you can tell, “Red Sparrow” has a lot of set up. Unfortunately, the story only becomes more difficult to follow as time goes on. “Red Sparrow” is a grounded spy film, meaning despite the plot not having a very bombastic scope, the in-universe consequences are huge. This means the film is more concerned with delivering what feels like a realistic depiction of what would happen, than offering over the top set pieces. You go through the motions of characters collecting information, meeting with their superiors, trying to figure out previously mysterious clues, yatta yatta; this film is more boring than watching a plant grow.
Spy stories just do not work well with a film format, unless the story is straightforward enough or the film takes the time to explain explicitly what is going on. Spy stories work best in a novel format, where information can be slowly delivered and processed. The entire second act is dedicated to a diverging plot that has almost nothing to do with Egorova’s main assignment and makes no sense what-so-ever.
The pacing is all over the place. The film will switch between an intense action scene and a slow investigating scene sporadically, giving the film no proper pacing or build up to the end. As a matter of fact the film gets so enamored with it’s side plot, the only reason Egorova figures out the identity of the mole is because the person comes right out and says it. It is clear the film loves spies and all things espionage, because it forgets to craft a functional story along the way.
Can everyone stop pretending Jennifer Lawrence is a good actress? She has only ever put out one good performance and that was in X-Men first class. Even then her performance can hardly be credited to her acting prowess, and more so to the film’s great direction. Every film she’s appeared in has been the same performance, a dead pan stare where she occasionally moves her mouth to make an expression. “Red Sparrow” is no different, except this time we have to listen an insufferably bad Russian accent that sounds like an SNL impression of Vladimir Putin.
If you can, just ignore this movie all together.
Ty Davis can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org or @tydavisACW