Movie Review: 'Red Sparrow' (2018)

When you think of the color red, many emotions spring to mind and passion is chief among them. Unfortunately for “Red Sparrow,” it is unable to portray that kind of power at any point. Set in an undefined period of time, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a promising ballerina in Russia when her dreams of greatness are literally crushed under the ballet slipper of her male counterpart.

Thanks to her menacing uncle, Dominika learns the truth about that incident. So with her and her mother's financial security and overall well-being at stake, her slippery slope into espionage begins. A cross between “La Femme Nikita” and countless films in that vein, Dominika must endure numerous assaults and a brutal training academy to become a battle-hardened soldier. As it turns out nature did not need much nurturing at all.

The spy game is rough though, and while “Red Sparrow” drives that point home, it never quite embraces its inherent campiness. A ballerina is taken out by a rival. A cold and calculating teacher instructs students at a spy school that is equally horrifying. A romance of Romeo and Juliet proportions is riddled with fizzle, no believable bond coming to the fore.

There is a lot here that screams of over the top drama, and yet “Red Sparrow” is lensed and directed with the majesty of a prestige pic. The cinematography is stark and becoming of the subject matter, but what the camera captures in terms of story is nowhere close to being worthy of its grand and impressive eye.

There is no room to breathe as there are hardly any genuinely likable characters to behold. While sympathetic, the movie continually whispers of Dominika's psychopathic tendencies. Elsewhere, the movie's central romance elicits no sense of realistic or winsome fervor. It is a forced trope that bears no fruit.

Packed with a cast of great actors that find themselves muffled by the material’s aims, there is only one who truly knocks it out of the park. And that honor goes to Mary Louise Parker. In the span of a few short minutes, she breathes more life into the film than it experiences in its entire duration. Parker is lively in a movie that insists its personas be drab at every corner.

Jennifer Lawrence has an intriguing character to work with and is unable to pull it off. She remains emotionally unchanged throughout, conveying sparse depth to a role that screams for dimensional conflict. As Dominika takes on many forms on paper, Lawrence remains the same, an eerie presence that never uses her emotions to create something concrete. There is no softness, only hostility. In turn, the chemistry between Lawrence and co-star Joel Edgerton never manifests in a palatable or believable manner.

In a parallel that strikes at the heart of what the movie gets wrong, the score is faint throughout, only to roar to strong effect in the final act. Because of its choice of execution, there is no room to embrace what actually makes the story interesting. While it does more in its final moments than anyone could have likely thought possible at the outset, that opportunity has come and gone by the end. No sense in clinging to it as time runs out.

Where 2017's “The Villainess” pulses with riveting drama, stellar character development, rigorous action sequences, and outstanding performances, “Red Sparrow” does not. “The Villainess” has compelling characters loaded with complexities, whereas “Red Sparrow” insists its characters remain stereotypes, devoid of any layers. “The Villainess” is the movie “Red Sparrow” is not even self-aware enough to know it should want to be and that is why it fails to deliver.

Rating: 5/10

[Featured Image by 20th Century Fox]