Movie Review: 20th Century Fox's Red Sparrow - #RedSparrow

Release: March 2, 2018
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay by: Justin Haythe
Based upon the book by: Jason Matthews
Produced by: Peter Chernin, Steve Zaillian, Jenno Topping, David Ready
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons
RED SPARROW Official Channels
HASHTAG: #RedSparrow
Dominika Egorova is many things.
A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs.
A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit.
A master of seductive and manipulative combat.

When she suffers a career-ending injury, Dominika and her mother are facing a bleak and uncertain future. That is why she finds herself manipulated into becoming the newest recruit for Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people like her to use their bodies and minds as weapons. After enduring the perverse and sadistic training process, she emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced. Dominika must now reconcile the person she was with the power she now commands, with her own life and everyone she cares about at risk, including an American CIA agent who tries to convince her he is the only person she can trust.

It’s one thing for Hollywood to pay lip service to women’s issues.  It is quite another to actually act or deliver on that lip service.  Red Sparrow is not a movie that screams “time’s up” or has reverence for the recent “me too” social movement. Like the Cold War era that its based in, Red Sparrow harkens back to a day when men have all of the control and women are pieces of sexualized meat.  The whole experience of this film was off-putting and borderline offensive.

Red Sparrow had very big shoes to fill.  Cold War spy thrillers have been done. Several have been done very well. Most of the spy thrillers have male leads (think James Bond).  It was obvious that the makers of Red Sparrow sought to distinguish it from other films in the genre. Instead of a male lead, they cast a woman (Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova) and promptly enrolled her in “whore school.” It only got worse from there.

The school was managed by Charlotte Rampling (as the Headmistress of the Sparrow School), as if it makes it better that a woman is issuing sadistic and sensationalized edicts to the students.  Rampling is an Oscar nominated actress. The role of Headmistress was a waste of her talent. Watching her issue tasks where the students had to be completely nude and perform public sex acts was uncomfortable, to say the least.

In order to have a proper Cold War era drama, Red Sparrow had to include an American. Joel Edgerton (as Nathaniel Nash) gets thrown-in as a weak incarnation of an American spy.  Nash, literally, gets made for a spy at every turn. What’s worse is that Nash is also a completely awkward love interest for Dominika.

The sex and seduction aspects aside, Red Sparrow was a boring spy caper. There were no hints for the audience follow, no intrigue for solving the plot’s mystery. The whole story gets wrapped in so many sub-plots that the audience forgets what it was trying to solve in the first place. The pacing was either too fast or too slow. Then, came the big reveal, handed to the audience without the necessary build-up.  The ending was extremely disappointing.

None of it worked.  What was billed as a female empowerment film is really a voyeuristic sexual drama, where the heroine’s lead skills were seduction, manipulation and sex. But she can pick locks, too. The uninteresting twists and turns played out as opportunities for Lawrence to remove her clothes on-screen. 

If you’re a fan of semi-nude Jennifer Lawrence, Red Sparrow is for you.  If you like Cold War dramas or spy thrillers, in general, this movie isn’t, so much, for you. Either way, there is no need to see this one on the big screen. The visuals (other than Lawrence’s undressed body) are not spectacular. It isn’t pensive or thought-provoking, it's low hanging fruit.  If you’re inclined to see this dark and over-sexualized tale, Red Sparrow is playing everywhere now. 

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