20th Century Fox brings you the Black Widow movie that Marvel can’t seem to give everyone. Obviously, I jest, but it’s a fairly common joke to make regarding this film. Personally, though I’m not a fan of either Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson, I’ll take Lawrence.
For those of you that don’t know why I’m not a fan of Lawrence, let me be clear. I don’t dislike her in any way. She’s a fine enough actress, but I never quite jumped on board the love train of her popularity. Yeah, yeah, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), WINTER’S BONE (2010), all praising her performance, but I thought they were either dull or roles that anyone could have played. There’s only a handful of performances that she’s had that I’ve truly found great: AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013), and PASSENGERS (2016). Everything else is not bad, but not amazing either. Some of the other cast members I am eager see, though. So even if I find Lawrence underwhelming, I’ll enjoy the supporting cast, at least.
The story looks like it’s about a young Russian woman. She’s recruited to do some espionage work in exchange for her sick mother’s treatment. She’s otherwise successful, but the recruiters kill her mother and force her to become a “sparrow,” assuming a spy for her government. She’s eventually given an assignment to find out what this American knows, but is then faced with a decision to possibly betray the people that she works for, or to carry out her mission.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Jennifer Lawrence (MOTHER! , JOY , HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET , X-MEN: FIRST CLASS , and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX ) and Joel Edgarton (BRIGHT , THE GIFT , THE THING , STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES , and upcoming films GRINGO  and BOY ERASED ). In support, we have Charlotte Rampling (THE SENSE OF AN ENDING , ASSASSIN’S CREED , and upcoming films THE LITTLE STRANGER  and VALLEY OF THE GODS ), Mary-Louise Parker (RED , RED DRAGON , and TV show WEEDS [2005 – 2012]), Ciarán Hinds (JUSTICE LEAGUE , HITMAN: AGENT 47 , THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX , THE SUM OF ALL FEARS , and upcoming films ELIZABETH HARVEST  and CAPTAIN MORTEN AND THE SPIDER QUEEN ), Joely Richardson (SNOWDEN , THE PATRIOT , 101 DALMATIANS , and the upcoming THE ASPERN PAPERS ), and Jeremy Irons (JUSTICE LEAGUE, APPALOOSA , THE LION KING , and the upcoming MONUMENTAL ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Francis Lawrence, known for HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 (2015), I AM LEGEND (2007), and CONSTANTINE (2005). Penning the screenplay is Justin Haythe, known for A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017), THE LONE RANGER (2013), and the upcoming BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018). Composing the score is James Newton Howard, known for ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (2017), CONCUSSION (2015), THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), SPACE JAM (1996), and upcoming films THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (2018) and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018). The cinematographer is Jo Willems, known for MOCKINGJAY PART 2, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), HARD CANDY (2005), and the upcoming NIGHTMARE CINEMA (2018). Finally, the editor is Alan Edward Bell, known for DARK TOWER (2017), MOCKINGJAY PART 2, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012).
Overall, I think it might be good enough, but I’m not expecting J-Law to blow me away. The supporting cast, sure, but as a whole, I don’t think it’s going to be any favorite of mine.
This is my honest opinion of: RED SPARROW
Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) was once a proud Russian ballerina, but suffered a supposed leg injury that effectively ended her career. Because the ballet was paying for her and her mother to live in the home they currently reside, it wouldn’t be long before the two would be kicked out. In order to prevent that from happening, her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works for Russian intelligence, recruits her for a mission against a Russian diplomat. However, plans go sideways when she witnesses his assassination. Typically, this would mean her elimination too, but is given an easy choice between dying, or become a Sparrow, Russian spies dedicated to the art of seduction. In time, she is given her first assignment: Nate Nash (Joel Edgarton), an American CIA operative who had contact with a Russian traitor trading secrets with the Americans. The Russian traitor managed to disappear, but the Russians want Dominika to find out who the traitor is.
Early reviews have been mixed so far, and I have to say that I more or less agree. This is not a very good movie, but it’s not all bad either.
The opening sequence is the first red flag. The editing felt really out of control. Normally, the beginning of the film is all about establishing characters. Who they are and what they’re all about, the works. But the opening is playing a game of pong with the audience’s attention span by constantly cutting between Dominika and Nate. Both backstories would be easy and quick enough to tell separately without intertwining them in a single sequence. I swear, barely ten seconds would go by before cutting from one character to another.
Even when the sequence calms down and we focus more on Dominika, much of her backstory seems highly unnecessary. She was a highly talented ballerina, got a career-ending injury, and then got recruited into the Sparrows. So… why did we need to know that her injury was a result of sabotage from the other ballerinas and to see her exact her revenge? In fact, considering much of her character throughout the story, she’s only violent when necessary, not because she was blood-thirsty. Okay, fine, that’s not why she attacked those that sabotaged her, but it’s still an extension that didn’t seem needed.
From this point on, the rest of this two and a half hour movie is… kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a poorly done film, but there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to it. This is weird to me because the characters would seem fine on paper. Dominika is a young woman who is forced into a new line of work that she can’t escape from, by her own uncle no less. She is forced to chip away at her soul, doing things she would never allow herself to do, and to essentially become a different person, struggling with maintaining her allegiance to her country without giving away that she secretly hates those that she reports to, and becoming a double agent for the Americans and helping them with their political goals alongside Nate, whose higher-ups don’t trust her. And given the material that Lawrence is given, she’s not at all bad, but… damn it, her performance just isn’t that interesting! This is in no way her fault, but I would have loved to see more inner turmoil. Already I have a hard enough time following much of the details within the plot, so why not replace those details with some more time with Dominika and her emotions. I know, I know, spy-espionage film, spies need to be emotionally reserved, but… by God is that kind of character boring to watch. And since this is the majority of her performance, then you can imagine how much I was struggling in my seat.
In fact, I was struggling so much that I made it infinitely worse for myself, in that about an hour into the flick, I yanked out my wrist watch from my bag and had been periodically checking it EVERY FUCKING FIFTEEN MINUTES!!! Every fifteen minutes felt like a half hour. That’s how disinterested I was getting.
But like I said, it’s not that bad as a whole.
Weirdly enough, the rest of the cast fares much better. They emote much more and are therefore a little more engaging. Schoenaerts plays Vanya very well, acting extremely creepy and pervy with the way he treats and looks at Dominika. Nate’s certainly well-written for being a dude who is protective of his mysterious contact and genuinely seems to want to help Dominika get away from her life as a Sparrow, so he’s easy to root for. And, of course, Richardson has always been a welcomed touch of class in anything that I’ve seen her in.
I give Lawrence some serious credit that she looked pretty damn good dancing in the ballet sequence in the beginning. Apparently, she’d trained for four months in preparation and spent four hours a day working with an instructor. Also apparently, she never wanted to do ballet, so it was difficult for her. Well, I gotta hand it to her, she looked good. I mean, I’m no dance expert, nor am I a ballet aficionado, so I’ll leave it up to the career dancers and coaches to tell me just how clunky her form truly was, but I was impressed by what I saw. And I also have to admit, there were certain scenes that were very well executed for her character. After a scene where he’s nearly raped by a fellow recruit and fights back, she is brought forth in class to, “give him what he wants” referring to the recruit that tried to rape her. In defiance, she strips naked in front of him and challenges him to have sex with her. He seemingly tries to take advantage of it, and despite her egging him on, he can’t get an erection to have his way with her, resulting in her saying something like, “Pitiful.” He angrily storms off and Dominika states that it wasn’t sexual satisfaction that he wanted, he wanted dominate her and prove him better than her. Not that this is essentially a shocking reveal, as I’m pretty sure many rapists can have their actions classified in such a way, but it’s that defiant and bullshit-calling manner in which she makes her point that was particularly awesome. It’s one of the only few times I saw her personality shine and got me invested in her character.
Overall, it may not sink completely into trash, but because of its brutally slow pace, especially for its long running time, and mostly dull lead character, I can’t make the claim that this is a very good film. But it’s by no means awful either. There’s some good cinematography and great supporting characters that limp the movie through that I don’t think a whole ton of time was wasted. My recommendation, if you feel so compelled to see this in theaters, make it a cheap matinee or wait for a discount day. I would say renting would be your best bet, but even then… just be careful, as it is a long movie, so make sure a good chunk of your day won’t be wasted. My secret is that this is a mediocre spy thriller. Secret’s out now, I guess.
My honest rating for RED SPARROW: 3/5
- OH LUCY!
PS: Like I said, this was a novel first. So if you’re interested in comparing and contrasting the novel from the film, click on the image below and head on over to Amazon and pick up your own copy.