I give Red Sparrow the benefit of the doubt that it wanted to portray the dehumanization of women in an socially responsible way. They failed, but they couldn’t have been this off base on purpose.
After a graphically catastrophic ballet injury, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence)’s uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) suggests another line of work. He sends her to State School 4 to train to use her body as a weapon of espionage.
There’s a lot of rape, which may be a reality of spycraft that needs to be addressed. Even when Dominika supposedly takes the power back, it’s in a scene where she is still exposed to the audience, let alone her own attacker.
I can’t help feeling that this is a male author, male screenwriter and male director’s idea of empowerment. That no matter how many times a woman can be raped or attacked, they think it becomes okay once she takes control of her body (by doing what a man would do with it).
Even before her training there is a lot of sexual violence. More is committed upon Dominika, and another naked couple in the throes of passion. Film shouldn’t shy away from the true brutality of sexual violence, but Red Sparrow seems to bend over backwards to create scenes of it.
It’s trying to show that real spywork is not a James Bond lark. It’s tough to be a spy. Torture actually hurts. Spies aren’t just waiting to use their gadget to escape.
The Americans is just as graphic on FX, but it’s emotional and compelling. So there’s even an example of the same genre doing this right.
Red Sparrow has a problem with consensual sex too. As in, scenes of Dominika willingly seducing male marks are not remotely convincing.
It sort of looks like sex scenes filmed by people who’ve never actually had sex. It’s a lot of ungraceful grinding devoid of emotion. Like, not even the base emotion of a man climaxing.
In addition to troubling gender politics, Red Sparrow is just boring. In trying to circumvent the Hollywood idea of exciting spy adventures, Red Sparrow strips the story of any set pieces.
Even a fight scene barely gets started because they’re trying not to have any fun. Red Sparrow is entirely preoccupied with meetings and exchanges.
Dominika gets involved with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), but is she helping him or playing him? You’ll figure it out long before the movie decides to reveal it.
The most basic missions fail to generate suspense. In one, Dominikia has to switch disks with decoys so she can steal the real ones. Why does she do this one disk at a time when she could just swap a full stack of decoys.
Also, who still uses 3.5” floppy disks? I thought maybe Red Sparrow was supposed to be set in the ‘80s but no, another mission has her swapping out a smart phone.
They keep saying Dominika is the best at what she does. She gets allies killed and takes more beatings midway into her mission. This is considered the best? State School 4 should reevaluate their success rate.
With three books in the series, Red Sparrow presumably hopes to be another movie franchise. We can only hope it joins The Mortal Instruments, The Golden Compass and Vampire Academy as movies that cut their losses after one.
Red Sparrow opens March 2 in theaters. Watch the trailer here.