What can I say about this film, when I purchased it a while ago, I had not yet read the book, but as I had mentioned before, we watch films in the order that I bought them. In that light, I had the movie on the shelf for awhile waiting its turn. With respect to the book, I managed to pick it up at the local Indigo bookstore (also in the bargain pile…are you starting to see a trend here?) and my books are read in the order that I bought them, just like the movies I watch. I know totally anal retentive with a touch of OCD. In that light, I did manage to read the book first and was then looking forward to the movie. I really enjoyed Jason Matthews book, the cover states that he is retired from the CIA, so I was hoping that there would be some realism in both the book as well as the film. I even noted a certain gentleman’s club in Ottawa mentioned in the novel, I remember the place quite well as I used to go there as a young soldier on occasion for a drink or three. But I have digressed, I enjoyed the book, it had some reality put in it, touched on places that I have been and was written well. I had a great deal of hope for the movie when I put it in the Blu-ray machine to provide the evenings entertainment.
Red Sparrow has a number of first rate actors in it. Jennifer Lawrence is the primary character, Dominika Egorova, with some pretty good supporting actors to balance out the cast. Joel Edgerton, Mary Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy Irons and Matthias Schoenaerts round out the principal characters in this film.
Before starting the pro’s and cons of this film; here is a synopsis of the film. Dominika (Lawrence) a promising ballet dancer in the Bolshoi has her leg broken by a jealous understudy and her boyfriend. This injury ends her dancing career, and as her apartment and ailing mother are sponsored by the state, she must find new ways to make ends meet. Her uncle Vanya Egorova (Schoenaerts) a Deputy Director of the SVR (The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) recruits her into the service and has Dominika (Lawrence) trained in the Sparrow school, where she could learn all the tools of a spy, and be the perfect honey trap to seduce unsuspecting men to betray their countries for her. An ultimate femme fatale if you will. In this dreary Soviet era spy school, Dominika learns how to manipulate men to get what she requires, either by mental, physical or sexual persuasion.
Concurrently, the Russians are facing a dilemma as they are aware of a mole that is operating at the highest levels within their hierarchy, just as the US are becoming aware of their own government leaks. Both nations start operations to counter the other, the Russians with the use of their sparrow Dominika (Lawrence) try and to run a counter intelligence operation against Nate Nash (Edgerton) who happens to be the CIA agent handling the Russian mole. There is a lot of spy vs spy thing going on between them as they try to work each other. Naturally, sparks fly between Dominika (Lawrence) and Nash (Edgerton) and they both fall in love, a mole is caught and captured and they both deceive their respective governments in one-way shape or form to prove their love for each other.
Needless to say there are several smaller storylines going on in the film, Uncle Vanya (Schoenaerts) is working his own career, General Korchnoi (Irons) is trying to stay one step ahead of everyone and Zakharov (Hinds) is just trying to stay afloat and control everything.
Of course, at the end, the west is triumphant, the American and Russian agents (Nash/Egorova) are in love, peace in the world is continued, and the west has a new mole working in Russia. Pretty much the standard formula for any spy type movie. However, while the movie was so-so, it could have been so much better. If I had not read the book first, I would have been lost in some of the activities and motives behind the various actions of the main characters. I must commend some of the cast for their roles, but I believe that in this instance it was very typical, the book was far better than the film.
Now let’s look at the cast and their roles:
Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova; She played this role very well. She has the stoic, hardened, yet when required violent character down. Continuing to work on the persona’s that she developed in the Hunger Game trilogy, Winter’s Bone, and even the X-men. She has proven that she can be dramatic and action oriented when required. Even in my minds eye, when reading the book, I found that Jennifer Lawrence was a fair resemblance to the character that I envisioned. However, that could also be because I saw her on the cover of the Blu-Ray as well and I had a preconceived image of the main character. Throughout the film, she does a pretty good job as the schemer and revenge seeker. For example, when she seeks retribution from her former colleagues for breaking her leg and ruining her ballet career, she executes a well thought plan, and delivers crushing revenge on her former colleagues. Additionally, as a manipulator, she proved that she could manipulate men and women to her own will. There is one scene specifically, where she proves that she could emasculate a male target, while seemingly allowing him to take what he wanted, but antagonizing him to point that he would be incapable of performing the act. Granted, I believe that this scene is the first time that Jennifer Lawrence has performed nude, and it has garnered a bit more attention in the film; her acting and manipulation skills are also to be commended. Overall, I found her performance as Dominika Egorova to be entertaining and well delivered.
Joel Edgerton as Nate Nash: While I commend Jennifer Lawrence and her character, I found the character of Nash as portrayed by Edgerton to be lacking. In the book, the character was younger, a bit more refined, and came across as a dedicated and action oriented agent. He was supposed to be an expert on Russian affairs, intelligent and was very skilled, as well as the trusted handler of the Russian mole. Furthermore, the novel presented an extremely career driven agent who wanted to excel not only personally, but professionally within the agency. I did not get this from Edgerton in this role. I found him to be lacking in the portrayal of these skills and emotions. The intensity that should have been evident was non-existent and I believe that some of the back-story on the character should have been included within the film. Nash (Edgerton) and Egorova (Lawrence) did not have chemistry within their scenes and I found their scenes together were forced and almost wooden. I also believe that this could be the fault of the screenplay and that the backstories were not further developed here. Again, if I had not read the book, and knew what was supposed to happen, I would have been lost in many parts of this film.
Matthias Schoenaerts as Vanya Egorova: First I have to say that Schoenaerts could be a clone for Vladimir Putin. Every time he came on the scene, that is all I could think of, so it was kind of distracting. What made it a bit more so, was that in the book, the president (Putin) had an active role, however I had read that there was a conscious decision not to include him in the film as it would have caused some distraction and not last the test of time. Excuse me, having a clone for him playing the uncle was even more distracting then if his character would have been part of the movie. All that aside, his character portrayed the requisite sliminess if you will. All his attention to Dominika (Lawrence) were only present to further his own career. She was a tool, just like any other. He did get his just desserts at the end of the film which I thought was played out well (This scene was not in the book, but it did help the movie). It also demonstrated that while his character was playing checkers, Dominika (Lawrence) was playing chess. She out-maneuvered him to get what she wanted. Overall, not a bad performance by Schoenaerts, but as I mentioned before his resemblance to Putin was kind of distracting.
Jeremy Irons asGeneral Korchnoi: Jeremy Irons was underutilized in this film, especially when compared to his role in the book. This became clearly evident when my wife was asking about his character and what his role was. In the novel, General Korchnoi is one of the principal actors, and is crucial to the story and the outcome. Having to explain the importance of a character does not bode well for a film. As previously mentioned, having read the novel, I was aware of his role and value. But in this film, his character just seemed to be another add-on, and his value to the story does not really resonate with the audience.
Mary Louise Parker as Stephanie Boucher: Again an actress who I generally like in films was completely wasted. Her raison d’etre as the mole in the US Government was really underplayed. Also, not only did they minimize her role, the backstory in the novel that was intrinsic to the overall plot was missed. Additionally, the rivalry between the FBI and CIA that was articulated in the novel was forgotten in the film. These were important pieces on why the FBI agents grabbed Boucher (Parker) early and did not wait, thus leading to the capture of Egorova (Lawrence). It added to the tension, as well as the blame between Nash (Edgerton) and his supervisors. Boucher (Parker) reminded me of Parker’s last series where she played Nancy Botwin, but in her role in Red Sparrow, it was less effective and less entertaining.
Ciaran Hinds as Zakharov; I always like him in films. He portrays the right amount of malevolence and you know just looking at him that he is evil and nasty. He continued to impress and fit within his character nicely.
Other differences that while not really important to the story, I personally thought were poor decisions on behalf of the film producers/directors.
First location; the secondary location of Finland was changed to Hungary. This original location in the novel made greater sense then what was used in the film.
The second difference or lack of development would be the use of Matorin (the SVR assassin) within the film. He also had a far greater role within the novel vice the film. This also could have been enhanced to follow the character that was described within the book, verses the 1-dimensional portrayal within the film.
Thirdly, the ending was changed quite dramatically, the novel articulated the sacrifice of the Russian mole to launch Egorova (Lawrence) into a position of trust within the SVR and continue the work that the mole had started. Having her uncle pay the price, (while poetic and entertaining as it did fit the film changes) was not the same as originally written in the novel. Personally, I would have preferred the novel ending vice what was presented in the film. Furthermore, the film did not articulate the motive for the Russian mole, this was also important and could have been added in easily with a few minutes of a flashback in the middle of the film.
Overall, the film was OK, not great, not horrible. We were entertained and watched to the end, and even checked out some of the extra’s on the disc afterwards. I would say that Lawrence was the best part of the film, as always, she excels in this type of role where she is the stoic heroine who gives her all to get not only the prize but destroying those who oppose her as well. The rest of the cast were ok, however, as mentioned above, some of the key characters could have been developed further. It is an ok time filler on a winter night, but don’t expect Oscar worthy performances or script either. Would we watch it again….maybe, but first I would rather re-read the book and get the rest of the trilogy.
Our rating: 4.5/10 for the film
6.5/10 for the book
If you are looking for further films from the main cast, check out the following recommendations:
Jennifer Lawrence Hunger Games Trilogy, Winters Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Joy
Mary Louise Parker Weeds, RED,
Ciaran Hinds Game of Thrones, Rome
Jeremy Irons The Borgias, Die Hard with a Vengeance