Red Sparrow

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Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Produced by
Screenplay by Justin Haythe
Based on Red Sparrow
by Jason Matthews
Starring
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Jo Willems
Edited by Alan Edward Bell
Production
company
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • February 15, 2018 (2018-02-15) (Newseum)
  • March 2, 2018 (2018-03-02) (United States[1])
Running time
140 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $69 million[3]
Box office $151.5 million[3]

Red Sparrow is a 2018 American spy thriller film directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Justin Haythe, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeremy Irons. It tells the story of a Russian intelligence officer, who is sent to make contact with a CIA agent in the hope of discovering the identity of a mole.

Matthews, a former member of the CIA, advised the production on the depiction of spying. Based on historic Soviet sexpionage and contemporary Russian use of kompromat, filming took place in Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. Jennifer Lawrence studied with the New York City Ballet to prepare for her performance.

Red Sparrow premiered at Newseum in Washington, D.C. on February 15, 2018, and was released in the United States on March 2, 2018. The film grossed $151 million worldwide, becoming a modest box-office success, and received mixed reviews from critics, who described it as having "more style than substance", and criticized the film's length and over-reliance on graphic violence and sex, while praising Jennifer Lawrence's performance.[4][5]

Plot[edit]

In modern-day Russia, Dominika Egorova is a famed Russian ballerina who supports her ill mother. Following a career-ending injury, Dominika is approached by her uncle, Ivan, the Deputy Director of SVR. She is tasked with seducing Dimitry Ustinov, a Russian gangster, in exchange for her mother's continued medical care. As Ustinov rapes her, he is killed by Sergei Matorin, an SVR operative authorized by Ivan. Ivan offers Dominika a choice to begin working for the SVR, or be executed so there are no witnesses to Ustinov's death.

Nate Nash is a CIA operative working in Moscow. While meeting with an asset in Gorky Park, they are confronted by the police. Nash creates a diversion to ensure his asset, a mole in Russian ranks code-named Marble, escapes unidentified. Nash is reassigned back to the U.S. but insists that he is the only individual whom Marble will work with. Since he cannot return to Russia, he is assigned to Budapest, where he will regain contact with Marble.

Dominika is sent to State School 4, a specialist training schools for 'Sparrows', SVR operatives capable of seducing their targets. Dominika excels in her training, despite some friction with her trainers, and she is assigned to Budapest. Meanwhile the SVR has been tracking Nash, and hopes to find out the identity of Marble. Dominika's assignment is to gain the trust of Nash, and reveal his contact.

Upon her arrival in Budapest, Dominika lives with Marta Yelenova, another Sparrow. Her boss in Budapest is Maxim Volontov. Dominika quickly makes contact with Nash, who correctly determines that she is a Russian intelligence operative. Dominika reveals her true identity to him, as well as her motive to find out Marble's identity. Dominika inspects Marta's room, and realizes that she is working to gather information from Stephanie Boucher, the chief of staff to a U.S. Senator. Dominika claims to her uncle that she is helping in Marta's effort to gather information from Boucher.

Dominika offers to work for Nash as a double agent. She carries out Marta's assignment to meet Boucher, and covertly exchanges the supplied information for CIA-supplied floppy disks. On leaving the meeting place, Boucher sees American agents and is spooked. She unintentionally steps into traffic and is killed. Russian agents observing Boucher realize that the mission had been compromised. Dominika and Volontov are required to immediately return to Moscow. She is tortured and interrogated for days. Dominika returns to Budapest, and informs Nash that she wishes to defect with her mother to America.

After spending the night with Nash, Dominika awakes to find him being tortured by Matorin, who is attempting to discover the identity of Marble. She initially helps Matorin torture Nash, but turns on the executioner and kills him. She wakes in a hospital where General Vladimir Korchnoi reveals that he is Marble. He explains that he was initially patriotic, but grew to feel that Russia was corrupt. He fears he will be caught soon, and instead of dying in vain, instructs Dominika to reveal his identity to Ivan. She could then replace him as a mole and further their work by passing information to the CIA. But when Dominika contacts her superiors to reveal the identity of the mole, she frames her uncle Ivan rather than betray Korchnoi. Ivan is killed by the Russian side during a spy swap, and Dominika is congratulated for her work by her Russian superiors.

Back home in Russia, Dominika lives with her mother, and receives a phone call from an unknown person who plays Grieg’s piano concerto that she had listened to during her love affair with Nash.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

After Jason Matthews' book Red Sparrow was published in 2013, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights, and signed Francis Lawrence to direct.[11] Matthews said the idea of "sparrows" and a "sparrow school" was based on State School 4 in the Soviet Union, though Russian "sexpionage" is now done by women contracted outside of spy agencies.[12][13] The Russian concept of kompromat was also influential.[12] Lawrence worked on adapting Matthews' book in 2015, and has said that at the time, he had reservations about the timeliness of a Cold War story.[14]

Screenwriter Justin Haythe reduced the number of narrators and shifting perspectives in the novel, concentrating on Dominika.[11] Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears in the novel, was also cut from the adaptation, due to Lawrence's belief that it would be a distraction to have an actor play the highly public figure.[15]

Matthews, who said he based his book on his experiences in the CIA,[16] was also hired as technical advisor, to supervise the accuracy of the depiction of espionage.[11] He had the Gorky Park scene rewritten to depict espionage methods more accurately.[13]

Casting[edit]

Francis Lawrence presented the screenplay to Jennifer Lawrence, who accepted the part.[17] Jennifer stated she admired the character and Francis' direction, with her sole point of hesitation being the "really sexual" nature of the character.[14] Francis Lawrence then met with her personally to discuss the nude scenes.[16] In 2014, Jennifer had private nude photos stolen in the iCloud leaks. However, Lawrence drew a distinction between the film and the leak based on her consent to the film, as opposed to the leak.[17] Lawrence explained: "The insecurity and fear of being judged for getting nude, what I went through, should that dictate decisions I make for the rest of my life?"[16][18]

Matthews advised Lawrence that double agents from Russia feel "a dread of discovery, a dread of being arrested, a dread of going to prison."[13] Lawrence also studied ballet for four months.[19] Kurt Froman of the New York City Ballet coached her, as she had never studied ballet before, and spent four hours with her each day for five days per week.[20]

As a former member of the CIA, Matthews coached actor Joel Edgerton. Edgerton said it was difficult to consider having "an interpersonal dating-style relationship ... [and] That fact that you would have to report any of those kinds of interactions with your bosses."[16] Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeremy Irons joined the cast by December 2016.[6]

Filming[edit]

Festetics Mansion in Dég

Principal photography started in Budapest and Dunaújváros in Hungary on January 5, 2017.[21][22][23] Other filming locations include Festetics Mansion in Dég, Hungary;[24] Bratislava, Slovakia;[25] and Vienna, Austria.[26] On May 3, 2017, Jennifer Lawrence was spotted shooting some scenes at London's Heathrow Airport.[27]

Post-production[edit]

In post-production, Francis offered Jennifer Lawrence the opportunity to view a cut of the film ahead of the studio and producers, so that she might request the deletion of any nude or sexual scenes. She declined to request any deletions.[17] However, the film was edited for the United Kingdom release to remove a violent sequence and secure a 15 certificate from the British Board of Film Classification.[28]

For the soundtrack, the 1868 Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg was used.[29] James Newton Howard wrote the score, recorded in October 2017, citing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem and Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird as influences. He commenced work before seeing a cut of the film.[30]

Release[edit]

The film was originally scheduled to be released by 20th Century Fox on November 10, 2017, but in April 2017 it was announced that the film's release would be pushed back to March 2, 2018, because it was seen as a less competitive one.[1][31] The studio's adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express was moved into Red Sparrow's November slot. The first trailer for the film was released on September 14, 2017.[32] The film premiered on February 15, 2018 at Newseum,[33] and began a U.S. theatrical release on March 2.[20]

Overseas, Red Sparrow screened at FEST in Belgrade on February 28, 2018.[34] It was released in the United Kingdom on March 1, 2018.[15][35]

Red Sparrow was released on digital streaming platforms on May 15, 2018.[36] It was released on 4K UHD Blu-ray,[37] Blu-ray and DVD on May 22, 2018.[38]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

As of June 24, 2018, Red Sparrow has grossed $46.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $104.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $151.3 million, against a production budget of $69 million.[3]

In the United States and Canada, Red Sparrow was released alongside Death Wish, and was projected to gross $20–24 million from 3,056 theaters in its opening weekend.[39] It made $6 million on its first day (including $1.2 million from Thursday night previews) and $17 million over the weekend, finishing second, behind holdover Black Panther. Deadline Hollywood noted the opening was underwhelming given the film's $69 million budget, and that Lawrence's salary of $15–20 million was too much to spend on one star.[40] It fell 51% in its second weekend to $8.15 million, finishing fourth.[41]

Critical response[edit]

Despite the film receiving mixed reviews, Jennifer Lawrence's performance was praised by critics.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 47%, based on 251 reviews, and an average rating of 5.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Red Sparrow aims for smart, sexy spy thriller territory, but Jennifer Lawrence's committed performance isn't enough to compensate for thin characters and a convoluted story."[42] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[43] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[40]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times found the film to be "preposterously entertaining" and credited its success to Lawrence's performance, writing that "like all great stars, [Lawrence] can slip into a role as if sliding into another skin, unburdened by hesitation or self-doubt."[44] IndieWire's Eric Kohn, who graded the film a B, noted the performances of Lawrence and Rampling, stating that "the considerable talent on display is [the film's] constant saving grace." However, he also found that the film "doesn't know when to stop, sagging into bland torture scenes and an underwhelming final showdown."[45] Giving the film a B-, The A.V. Club's Jesse Hassenger noted its methodical nature, with its minimal action and character exploration, and remarked that Francis Lawrence "brings to this material what he brought to The Hunger Games: a sense of style that feels constrained by obligations to hit a certain number of plot points."[46]

Alonso Duralde of TheWrap criticized the derivative story and the lack of chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton, calling the film "neither intelligent enough to be involving nor fun enough to be trashy."[47] Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars and said, "Half of the Red Sparrow audience will spend at least part of the running time fighting off memories of Salt and Atomic Blonde and the Black Widow storyline from The Avengers. The other half, meantime, will wonder when spy movies became quite so punishing."[48] Simran Hans of The Guardian found the film to be sexist, writing that "it busies itself with the grim surface pleasures of ogling its central character as she is degraded in every way possible."[49]

The average estimate of Russian publications was lower than the global average. According to Megacritic, the average score was 4.7 out of 10 based on more than 30 reviews [50]. According to Anton Dolin (Russian journalist, film critic, radio presenter), "movie is full of cliches and stereotypes, and only one thing that remains for Russian audience is to laugh at the fantasies of screenwriters," "simultaneous predictability and stiffness of intrigue make spectacle exceptionally dull"[51].

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Golden Trailer Awards May 31, 2018 Best Teaser "Program", 20th Century Fox, Wild Card Nominated [52]
People's Choice Awards November 11, 2018 The Drama Movie of 2018 Pending [53]
Drama Movie Star of 2018 Jennifer Lawrence Pending
Female Movie Star of 2018 Pending

Historical accuracy[edit]

According to The Daily Telegraph:

The espionage historian Nigel West — whose Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage (Scarecrow Press) was originally written as a handbook for the Intelligence community — questions the existence of such training schools, and is sceptical of the authenticity of descriptions of the sparrows' training in Jason Matthews’s novels. Most sparrows were not full-time KGB employees but prostitutes or 'actresses' who had no need of erotic instruction... the idea there was a stable of women whose job was to seduce men for the KGB, it’s a lovely idea but it just ain’t true.[54]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]