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‘Red Sparrow’ Review Roundup: What the Critics Are Saying

After Jennifer Lawrence first stepped into the limelight with her performance as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games,” it seemed that she could do no wrong, as she went on to garner praise for her roles in “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Joy.” However, Lawrence’s most recent roles have prompted a divided critical response,and her latest film, “Red Sparrow,” keeps in line with that trend.

Red Sparrow,” helmed by “Hunger Games” director Francis Lawrence, is based on a bestselling novel by former CIA operative Jason Matthews. Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina turned spy, who uses her sexuality to manipulate her targets.  The film opts for a different route than the action-driven spy thrillers of recent history, like “Salt” and “Atomic Blonde.” Instead, “Red Sparrow” emphasizes its dialogue and twisting plot.  While early reception to the film among critics has been mixed, Lawrence’s performance has been consistently viewed as one of the film’s strong points.

In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman praised Lawrence’s acting abilities, writing, ” 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.”

“Red Sparrow” hits theaters on March 2. Read some highlights of what the critics are saying below:

Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman:
“For the first time in a long while, a thriller revives Cold War tensions in a way that doesn’t feel corny, since the Russians, in ‘Red Sparrow,’ are standing in for the new world order: a global marketplace of people selling themselves. It’s no wonder spying is trickier than ever. With a century of espionage to draw upon, even the most undercover impulses are now out in the open.”

The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde:
“Neither intelligent enough to be involving nor fun enough to be trashy, this is a movie that would only work if it were a little worse or a lot better. ‘Red Sparrow’ is the sort of sumptuous, globe-trotting production that takes us to the Bolshoi, Budapest and London — not to mention the aforementioned “whore school,” where would-be spies are trained to be both deadly and seductive — but it’s the sort of listless affair where it’s easy to tune out and start noticing locations from other movies.”

The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee:
There’s an uncomfortable dissonance running throughout that results in a shifting, unsure tone and one wonders what film could have resulted from a steadier, yet wilder, hand (Brian De Palma would have had endless fun with it). The direction feels flat and passionless at times and while there are some impressive panoramic vistas, other stuffier scenes are so overly, clumsily lit that they’re clearly taking place on a set.

Independent’s Christopher Hooton:
“I wonder if Lawrence felt similarly indebted to her ‘Hunger Games’ director Francis Lawrence to make this movie, which seems to exist for little purpose other than to show her naked in as many ways as contractually obligable…A light and enjoyable thriller was probably on the cutting room floor here, but what ended up in theatres is a very long, straight-faced and weirdly morbid drama, that tries to make up for itself with some pretty extreme and nauseating violence.”

Indiewire’s Eric Kohn:
“The elegance of Francis Lawrence’s direction, cinematographer Jo Willems’ measured camerawork, and James Newton Howard’s ominous score adheres to a familiar set of beats, but it’s the rare big Hollywood mood piece and mostly satisfying on those terms. With so many solid ingredients, it’s unfortunate that ‘Red Sparrow’ doesn’t know when to stop, sagging into bland torture scenes and an underwhelming final showdown in its concluding act.”

Screencrush’s Matt Singer:
“I liked Lawrence a lot, and ‘Red Sparrow’s’ ending does deliver on the shocking revelations it’s promised. (It also leaves things wide open for a sequel, because of course it does.) But I also left the theater feeling like ‘Red Sparrow’ was missing something, that spark of the ineffable that separates a competent movie from an exceptional one, or makes you rush out to see a new version of an old concept instead of rewatching classics…There’s a sense throughout that everyone here is like Dominika when she’s forced to become a sparrow: Just going through the motions.”

Time Out’s Tomris Laffly:
“With its highbrow ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’–like ambitions unrealized, ‘Red Sparrow’ ultimately plays a lot simpler than it initially suggests, even if a cathartic conclusion rewards the patience of those with tough constitutions.”

AV Club’s Jesse Hassenger:
“A lavishly costumed, location-enhanced thriller, ‘Red Sparrow’ carries itself along briskly enough (even with a 139-minute running time, the most indulgent thing about it), but it’s never especially brain-twisting or nerve-wracking.”

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