'Red Sparrow' Early Buzz: Jennifer Lawrence's Spy Thriller Is Brutal And Divisive

While Black Panther is dominating the box office this weekend, in a couple weeks it will be Jennifer Lawrence's turn to be a badass on the big screen in Red Sparrow.

The first screenings of Red Sparrow were held this week, and reactions and reviews are starting to hit the web. While some might be expecting this to be Jennifer Lawrence's own Atomic Blonde or even an example of what a Black Widow movie might be like, the early reviews indicate that Red Sparrow is neither of those things. The spy thriller from director Francis Lawrence is proving divisive, with some absolutely loving what this movie turned out to be while others thinking it's an overlong and numbing experience.

Read the first Red Sparrow reviews below for a more in-depth picture.

The Quick Positive Reactions

The Quick Negative Reactions

The brief reactions are pretty divisive, but the full reviews borrow praise and criticism from each side.

The Full Red Sparrow Reviews on Both Sides of the Fence

Rodrigo Perez At The Playlist called this movie Jennifer Lawrence's own Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but wasn't very satisfied:

"While it's Lawrence's most mature and relatively subtle effort to date, it's also, unfortunately, a slog.

Despite all its bendy twists and turns, of which there are arguably too many, "Red Sparrow," while well-intentioned in its efforts to be a more adult effort for both the director and his A-list star, the thriller winds up hollow, flat and largely uninvolving. But it's not for lack of trying to make something beyond a cat and mouse spy thriller. "Red Sparrow" is ultimately interested in delivering an empowering tale of a woman attempting to reclaim the life that was stolen from her, on her own terms. But while the character's agency is fortified in determination and purpose, it lacks a relatable emotive spark."

John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter thinks audiences will not be pleased:

"A sex-and-spycraft yarn built for Cold War 2.0 — despite displaying next to no awareness of current tech, arguably this cold war's defining ingredient — Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow sometimes seems to target the sort of Jennifer Lawrence fan who feels the recent Mother! didn't pay sufficient attention to the star's lightly clothed curves. 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."

Alonso Duralde at The Wrap found the movie to be a disappointing amalgamation of other spy movies:

"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.

As it is, Lawrence's reunion with director Francis Lawrence (the second through fourth "Hunger Games" movies) does at least amp up the sex and violence in an attempt to cover up the fact that the story feels grafted together from any number of spy sagas, not to mention the USSR flashbacks from "The Americans" and "The Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Owen Gleiberman at Variety found plenty to love in a move that goes for intelligence instead of action:

"In pumped-up espionage potboilers like "Salt" or "Atomic Blonde," Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron have gone through the motions of imitating male action stars at their most kick-ass grandiose. They're slickly "empowered" women, yet it's hard to distinguish that power from the thriller-video decadence of 21st-century action filmmaking.

In the elegantly tense and absorbing "Red Sparrow," on the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence portrays a Russian spy who's a cunningly desperate human being — or, at least, enough of one that each scene rotates around the choices she makes, the way she appraises and seizes the destiny of the moment, playing a spy as someone who acts out a role, but does so by acting as little as possible. 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."

Matt Singer at ScreenCrush thinks Jennifer Lawrence fans might not be receptive to this story:

"This is Francis Lawrence's fourth film with Jennifer Lawrence, and there are definitely some thematic parallels between The Hunger Games and Red Sparrow; they're both stories about women pressed into the service of corrupt and exploitative governments, who eventually fight back and assert control over their lives. There's an appealing empowerment message here, although some of the audiences who would be most receptive to that message might also be ones most turned off by the persistent and intense violence, and particularly sexual violence, against Lawrence in the film.

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 like Notorious or Three Days of the Condor. There's a sense throughout that everyone here is like Dominika when she's forced to become a sparrow: Just going through the motions."

Jordan Raup at The Film Stage gave the movie a B- and said:

"With Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen hanging up her bow and arrow and Francis Lawrence now free of the shackles of adhering to the demands of hit source material, Red Sparrow is a clear pivot into more mature, merciless terrority for the duo. Reteaming with his star of The Hunger Games, the entire film feels like an exercise in proving they can handle material that's not only darker, but rife with prevalent commentary both on the politics of today and the psychological and physical toll of sexual assault. While there's a blunt effect to tackling such issues in a frank manner, the direction doesn't the have the formal daring of something like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the script is a few shades shy of the wit contained in the '70s spy thrillers it pays homage to.

Though advertised in the Atomic Blonde vein, this is a far more subdued and less osentensius thriller. In fact, aside from a cringe-inducing knife fight that rivals the brutality of Eastern Promises' iconic scene, there are no real setpieces to speak of. Rather, feeling more akin to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, much of the suspense is tied to the questionable sympathies of our lead as she jumps back and forth between Russian intelligence and the CIA. The script by Justin Haythe–the writer behind another audacious, over-extended 20th Century Fox spring release, A Cure for Wellness–is full of twists and turns, and while some of them will come as a surprise, one never feels genuinely invested of the outcome due to the emotionally reserved approach, which is more convoluted and distended than necessary."

Eric Kohn at IndieWire thought a little better of the movie, but also noted its shortcomings:

"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. Ever here, however, the movie resonates with a precise topicality for an audience reeling from the exhumed shadow of the Soviet threat. It's a near-subversive maneuver to cast the world's biggest star as an ostensible villain, whose complicated relationship to her job is all the more chilling because it ends on a state of complete ambiguity — with no clear end in sight."

Benjamin Lee at The Guardian says the film is far from a disaster but it's still not a home run:

"While Passengers was a weird, unsalvageable mess and Mother! an intriguing failure, 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.

But for as many times as director Francis Lawrence (who led Lawrence through three of the four Hunger Games chapters) appears willing to push the boundaries, he's also equally comfortable in holding back. While some sexual content is portrayed with stunning frankness, other scenes are neutered. 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."


That's all for now, but it sounds like Jennifer Lawrence's latest is ambitious, but ultimately indulges in itself too long to land firmly. While there are those who find the movie to be fantastic, those same critics also note that the film might not sit well with general audiences, something that Lawrence is likely getting used to, especially after mother! last year. Still, I'd rather have Lawrence making movies like this than treading water with something like Passengers.

Red Sparrow hits theaters on March 2, 2018. Watch the most recent trailer right here.