March 2nd seemed like an unusual release date for an R-rated Jennifer Lawrence vehicle in which she plays a sexy Russian intelligence officer. I always get concerned about films that come out in February and March. They didn’t get in soon enough for the previous year’s awards and aren’t being saved for the big summer or holiday season. Is it because they were deemed not good enough? Sadly, in this case the answer is “Yes”. With an estimated budget of $69 million, according to IMDb, the U.S. gross was only $47 million as of the writing of this review. That doesn’t reflect a good public response.
This bird simply doesn’t fly. The pacing is too slow to make it an action movie. Despite the hard-R rating, the nudity and sex doesn’t generate enough heat to, well, make it a sex and nudity movie. Even though the violence is graphic, there is not a lot of that either. So what is there a lot of? Well, unlikeable characters. Even our sexy, stoic secret agent isn’t particularly likable, and the attempt to establish her as a caring daughter early in the film falls short. In fact, an awkward amount of the story is established in the first ten minutes of the film, in a sort of “Take this all in so we can get on with it” style.
The fact that our characters are not particularly likable is more of a problem with Francis Lawrence's direction and screenwriter Justin Haythe's writing than anything else. Yes, the majority of the performances are stoic, but that fits the environment. The problem seems to be that the majority of the cast is not given enough room to stretch their legs.
Jennifer Lawrence looks beautiful in the film, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a scene where she is genuinely smiling. The former ballerina has few options to provide for her mother and thus heads off to a secret government program where she is trained to be a Red Sparrow. Unfortunately, the training scenes are few, and she’s quickly out on her first mission. Said mission involves getting close to CIA agent Nate Nash (great comic book name) played by Joel Edgerton. He gives one of the better performances in the film, but his “Guy next door who you could have a beer with while he works on his car” look is distracting.
The supporting performances are strong, especially those of Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, and Matthias Schoenaerts, but compartmentalized. This is not so much an ensemble but a group of individual performances.
If you enjoyed the movie in the theater, this new release from 20th Century Fox that hit store shelves on May 22nd will give you a lot more of what you enjoyed. The 90 minutes of bonus material includes pieces on locations, set designs, stunts, direction, and of course, deleted scenes where we are always told how difficult it was to cut the scenes. It would have been nice to know more about the wonderful score by James Newton Howard. Ultimately, the bonus material reveals that those involved in the production didn’t realize it wasn’t working.
Recommendation: Not for purchase but an edited version for television is only going to be worse, so figure out a way to see it before television release if you have the need.