“Red Sparrow”

“Red Sparrow”
Directed by Francis Lawrence

I want you to close your eyes and go way back in to the furthest recesses of your mind, to a time when a young, phenomenal actor was magnetic in a film about the meth trade in the rural Ozark mountains. Do you remember her? Her name was Jennifer Lawrence. We all had high hopes for her. And a couple times we were actually rewarded with brilliance…”Silver Linings”, “American Hustle”, the first “Hunger Games” film (“and ‘Mother!”, don’t forget “Mother!'”, you shout…but I still have no idea what that film was…so let’s leave it out for now). Now open your eyes and you’ll notice that this brilliant actor is nowhere to be found. Instead, we have become inundated with mediocre to terrible “movie star” performances.

  • Hunger Games 2, 3 & (all-time dreadful) 4
  • three X-Men films
  • “Joy”
  • “Passengers”

…and now along comes “Red Sparrow”. But before I even get in to all the awful that is deeply ensconced in this dookie drek of a film, I would like to make a plea to Ms. Lawrence:

Dear Ms. Lawrence,
The star making industry is an all encompassing and powerful force. It can suck you in to royalty (as it has with you), or it can spit you out. But it’s biggest power lies in its ability to lure you in to believing you must keep your name high above the title. After all, you’re one of the six or seven actors that can guarantee a big opening. But where does that leave you or your legacy as an actor? And what about us, those of us who remember how special a talent you are? When do we get to see that again. Listen, I have NO problem with an actor making as much money as they possibly can in the industry. As a rule, actors are the least powerful pieces of the showbiz Moloch (a phrase borrowed from Alan Ginsburg), so if we can slide in and take some control, fantastic! But, I wonder…are you the one choosing these heinous scripts or is it, more likely, your “team” (which will cease to exist if you don’t maintain your position on the Royal Court of Hollywood)? I know I’m in no position to question your choices, nonetheless, I’m honestly curious. Because, frankly, you’re too good for these films. Truly. And I’m also a little confused since your public persona is one of a real, down-to-earth human being who gets the importance of cinematic culture in our daily lives. Not expecting a response. I’m just a hopeful cinephile who misses your inherent ability.
Sincerely, Jason Singer

Okay…back to our regularly schedule dissection of an abysmal movie (with a capital terrible)….

Untitled20179141517705Let’s start with Justin Haythe’s script (based on Jason Matthews novel). What a giant black hole of misogynistic goo. And, before you tell me that it’s about female empowerment (which it is – or, rather, should be), let me say that just because a female character shows her ability to manipulate and destroy a world in which she is considered less than simply for possessing XY chromosones, that’s no reason to turn it in to voyeuristic fetishism. And that is precisely what this film is, plain and simple. Here’s Ms. Lawrence being vulnerable and in pain, here’s Ms. Lawrence taking off her clothes and showcasing her ability to seduce a target (over and over), here’s Ms. Lawrence being horribly tortured. And here she is falling in love (or IS she?). It’s all patently absurd and OBVIOUSLY written by a hopelessly out-of-touch cis-male. I’m not condemning these actions being in a script if they are necessary…but in THIS film they don’t further the plot at all…thus leaving nothing but titillation in the worst kind of way. And the WORST part of it is that there’s a really cool story hidden in there, somewhere. In fact, the third act is actually quite good. But, why the rest? Didn’t “Atomic Blonde” just show us how to tell these stories without all that muck and ick? Just…eww.

And let’s not let the dreadful direction of Frances Lawrence off the hook. I’m not sure if he’s TRYING to be the worst kind of lovechild between DePalma and Verhoeven, but it sure seems like it. It’s overlong, not nearly as complex as it would like to be and stoops to the lowest common denominator in his utilization of Ms. Lawrence’s attributes. Spectacularly under-edited with a running time of well over two hours, it’s STILL all over the place (literally). My companion whispered to me, “we’re back in the USA now, right?”. Uh…maybe? I’m not even going to touch the horrendous mistake of having all the Russians speak English with Russian accents, to EACH OTHER. And even if I were to forgive that, there can then be NO ACTUAL RUSSIAN spoken…right? Oy.  (I realize I just said I wouldn’t touch it…ah, well…прости!) No, like all three of the “Hunger Games” films he “directed”, this is not one for his reel…or your entertainment.

Jennifer-Lawrence-Matthias-Schoenaerts-Red-SparrowThe acting, outside of Ms. Lawrence (who in spite of EVERYTHING is still pleasant enough to follow – much better than she was in “Joy” or “Passengers”), the rest of the cast is..uh…good enough. Joel Edgerton does what he’s supposed to, even if he isn’t at all magnetic. In fact, their chemistry is just brutally forced to fit the male fantasy unspooling in front of us. And Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling acquit themselves well, even if stuck in 2-D Cold War caricatures. The same cannot be said for one of my favorite actors, however. Matthias Schoenaerts is slowly descending in to playing the movie star instead of the character…even in Belgian films like this year’s “The Racer and the Jailbird”). He hasn’t really been the force he can be since the vastly underappreciated “Far From the Madding Crowd” (and, of course, “Bullhead” before that). BUT, to the rescue comes two BRILLIANT scenes with the only performance that seems real in the entire film, Mary Louise-Parker. I wish they’d made a movie about HER character. Tremendous.

I’ll say this…technically, it’s first rate. Lawrence’s longtime cinematographer, Jo Willens, does a great job of recreating a color palette reminiscent of old school Eastern European-based Cold War spy films…even though the film takes place in modern day. And the score is not too bad. I’m not sure if James Newton Howard was trying to emulate Stravinsky’s “Firebird”, but I sure caught some themes from it…which given the story’s ballet roots, was effective…and a welcome distraction.

In closing, I think the film was best summed up by the guy sitting in front of us at the theater, who, about midway through the un-ending second act, let out an uncontrollable, and CLEARLY audible, yawn.

I wanted to give him a prize.

Written on 3/12/2018

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