Red Sparrow may be a thriller but despite Jennifer Lawrence’s best effort, the film isn’t quite at the same level as the espionage thrillers that have come before. What’s truly a disappointment is how the film uses rape as a plot device.
Directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay written by Justin Haythe, the film is based on the book of the same name by veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews. The three-time Hunger Games director reunites with Lawrence to bring the book to the screen. Lawrence leads a cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Joely Richardson, and Jeremy Irons.
Lawrence stars as ballerina Dominika Egorova. After an injury ends her dancing career, her uncle, Ivan Dimitrevich Egorov (Schoenaerts), decides to send her off to train as a Sparrow. If you’re wondering what a Sparrow is, it’s best explained by Sparrow School Headmistress Matron (Rampling) as “weapons in a global struggle for power.” Sparrow School isn’t quite the Red Room. Instead, the students sent there are trained for sexualized espionage–and it’s clear that Dominika isn’t a fan. At one point, she’s visibly angry as she calls her uncle out for sending her to “whore school.” It wouldn’t be an understatement to call it a whore school because that’s exactly what the Sparrow School is. Again, this is a film that uses rape as a plot device.
When the government learns that CIA operative Nathaniel Nash (Edgerton) is in Budapest after leaving Russia, Ivan assigns his niece to travel there so that they can figure out who the mole in the Russian government is. After learning her true identity, all that can be said is that Nash soon develops his own agenda in hopes of turning her into a double agent. If you didn’t read the book, it’s best to avoid any in-depth articles about the film in hopes of going in spoiler-free.
There are moments in this film that are more cringe-worthy than possibly any espionage thriller to date. It’s enough to cause someone to flinch especially during scenes in which people are being tortured. Yes, it’s an espionage thriller but there are better ways to make a film–preferably one that doesn’t include rape as a plot device.
The biggest takeaway from Red Sparrow is that it’s not the film that people wanted it to be in order to get Marvel to kickstart a long-anticipated Black Widow movie. Don’t get me wrong–Jennifer Lawrence gives it all in her performance as dancer-turned-spy Dominika Egorova but Natasha Romanoff she is not. There was more emotion out of Charlize Theron’s performance in last summer’s kick-ass spy flick, Atomic Blonde. How Red Sparrow does at the box office will likely determine if Palace of Treason and The Kremlin’s Candidate (just released on February 13th) will be adapted as feature films.
20th Century Fox will open the film in theaters on March 2, 2018.