'Red Sparrow' is no 'Mother!', gets tepid response from critics

[embedded content]

We now interrupt The Black Panther Show to take a moment for Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence’s upcoming Russian spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence. Reviews found Sparrow to be mildly interesting if not the edge-of-the-seat thriller the filmmakers thought they had, but it’s another powerhouse performance from Lawrence, one of Hollywood’s reigning stars.

For more on what critics thought of Red Sparrow, read on.

The film overall

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly:

I think I went into Sparrow expecting something very slick and camp; Atomic Blonde in a tutu. Instead, it felt much more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with shades of La Femme Nikita, or at least trying to be. The visuals were mostly grim, grey cityscapes, and the violence was brutal, not balletic. 

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

It’s totally fine in a forgettable sort of way. The problem is it just doesn’t add up to the sum of its promising parts: exotic locations, sexy double- and triple-crosses, and a great cast full of the kinds of actors who can turn bad movies into watchable ones 

John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter:

What would a spy flick be without the male gaze? Well, it’d be something like John Le Carre — which this film, despite its focus on the strategic acquisition of foreign assets, definitely is not. Striking a sometimes uneasy balance between trust-no-one espionage and sensationalism, Sparrow seems likely to attract a fairly large audience but leave few moviegoers fully satisfied.

Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

There’s nothing about the moral crisis in “Red Sparrow” that hasn’t been explored a million difference ways on “The Americans,” and the movie may as well exist in that show’s expanded universe a few decades later on the timeline. 

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian:

Red Sparrow is not exactly the home run Lawrence could do with right now. But it’s far from a disaster. There’s a curious perversity that rears its head early in the film during a startlingly grisly shower scene and throughout, there’s a shocking willingness to go to the very edge of what’s acceptable in a contemporary studio movie. There’s full-frontal nudity, violent rape, implied incest, graphic torture and a darkly sexual atmosphere that leads to a number of head-spinningly nasty moments.

Lawrence and the cast

Owen Glieberman, Variety:

Lawrence, in this movie, shows you what true screen stardom is all about. She cues each scene to a different mood, leaving the audience in a dangling state of discovery. We’re on her side, but more than that we’re in her head. Even when (of course) we’re being played.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

I’d happily listen to Irons purring his sinister, pack-a-day voice anytime and watch Rampling’s Rosa Klebb She Wolf of Siberia thing all day long. Unfortunately, they’re only about 10 percent of the movie. The other 90 percent is a mix of utterly pedestrian and shamelessly prurient. 

Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

Charlotte Rampling gives a monstrous performance as the headmistress, whose capacity to arouse and disturb her disciples ranks as some of her best scene-chewing in recent memory. 

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian:

The decision to cast so many British and Irish actors in small roles (Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Joely Richardson, Ciaran Hinds, Douglas Hodge, etc) that could have been played with more conviction by Russians is one that remains distracting until the end. It requires a hefty suspension of disbelief that would have been easier to employ had the film been directed with more self-aware silliness

A feminist setback or welcome change?

Owen Glieberman, Variety:

Lawrence makes her nakedness dramatic; she plays Dominika as shamed and proud at the same time. The film presents her new, transactional relationship to sexuality as a pop projection of the torments that women have endured, and there’s a resonance to that. When James Bond sleeps with someone, it’s all part of the hedonistic sport of the spying life. In “Red Sparrow,” it’s quite the opposite. Dominika deeply resents her “whore school” training. The men she faces add up to a conspiracy — sexual harassment as the dark underbelly of tradecraft.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly:

I was surprised too to see an Oscar-winning actress at arguably the height of her career do what I thought was a pretty graphic and unnecessary nude scene. But maybe I’m too fried by the current political climate; someone could easily say that those moments are designed to show her coming into her own power, and that sex is an integral part of the espionage game. Spies gonna spy, using all the tricks they learned at KGB camp — or as she calls it, “whore school.”

Red Sparrow premieres March 2.

[embedded content]