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*warning, spoilers follow! You have been warned!
Given the wide range of reviews this film has gotten, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see Red Sparrow last night. Would this be a clone of Black Widow’s origin story as many accused it of being? Was the story as messy as some led me to believe? The answer, I believe, is no (to Black Widow) and not quite (as to the messiness of the plot). Actually, I found myself enjoying the movie for the most part. It follows Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) as she goes from being the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet to a “Sparrow,” a spy trained in the art of seducing targets to retrieve information.
Dominika’s story intersects with that of American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Nash is the handler for a high-ranking Russian mole code-named “Marble.” Russian intelligence is aware of Marble’s existence, though not his true identity and Dominika is assigned the task of getting close to Nash and worming the secret of Marble’s identity out of him. Failure will result in Dominika’s execution.
That in essence is the bulk of the plot, though the film takes far too many turns for my liking to reach its conclusion. In fact, I think the biggest weakness of the film is the would-be romantic sub-plot between Dominika and Nate. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time the story stuttered to a stop every time they got together. Cut out the possibility of romance blossoming between Nate and Dominika (as well as the filmmaker’s attempt at “is she or is she not in love”) and the story would have flowed much better I think.
Another weakness is the length of the story. I think most of us can agree that the film ran at least 30 minutes too long. There were several points that I felt the end of the story was at hand only to move on to another scene (I actually caught myself thinking “What, are we still going?” not long before the climax). Of course once we actually got to the climax the payoff was enormous, but I still think the last portion of the film before that scene was mostly unnecessary.
Now for what I liked about the film:
One of my favorite parts of Red Sparrow is Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Dominika. She absolutely owns this role and you literally can’t take your eyes off her. Lawrence runs a huge gamut of emotions: despair, seduction, flattery, love (for her mother), it’s a very impressive performance. Another highlight is the all too brief role played by Jeremy Irons. I’ve been a fan of his work for years and he didn’t disappoint here, I actually wanted to see more of him!
I was correct in thinking that James Newton Howard’s score would be the highlight of this film. In fact the music is part of why I enjoyed Red Sparrow as much as I did. My favorite musical moments are Dominika’s ballet scene at the beginning (before THAT moment, you know the one I mean) and the climactic scene where she’s traded back to the Russians in exchange for the mole (more on that in a moment). In both scenes, I love the way the music swells up and around you, lending gravity and a musical fullness to each moment. Moments like this are why I love film music as much as I do.
The last part I want to discuss is the aforementioned exchange scene. (Again, spoilers follow!) Prior to this scene, Dominika is met at the hospital by General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) who reveals that he is Marble. He tells Dominika that the only way she’s getting out of this alive is to turn him in to Russian intelligence which will make her a hero to the state and place her beyond suspicion (and thus allow her to continue feeding intelligence to the Americans in his place). It seems Dominika has no choice, and for a moment I actually thought she was going to commit suicide and thus “take back the power” by making a choice for herself (to end her life). Thankfully they didn’t go that way because what happened is so much better.
The night of the exchange comes and the Russians pull out a hooded figure from a helicopter. When the Americans ask for the hood to be removed so they can confirm Marble’s identity…the hood is taken off to reveal Dominika’s scheming uncle, the man who forced her to be a Sparrow in the first place! In fact, I suspect that up until the end her uncle manipulated the entire story, including the “accident” that broke Dominika’s leg and ended her ballet career (but that’s just my speculation). It turns out that everything Dominika has done since has been to get revenge on her uncle for ruining her life and career. Upon this revelation, everything made sense to me: Dominika had not only gotten revenge on her uncle by falsely outing him as the mole, but she’d also found a way to keep Marble in his place (and alive!) Considering everything her uncle had done (and how sleazy he’d shown himself to be), I found this moment to be very satisfying.
And those are my thoughts on Red Sparrow! Overall I enjoyed the film despite its weaknesses, though I don’t think I liked it enough to get a copy on DVD. Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow in the comments below! Have a great day!
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