Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Justin Haythe** (screenplay)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Ciaran Hinds, Matthias Schoenaerts, Joely Richardson, Jeremy Irons
Based on the book: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Review by Stephanie Cooke
CW: rape, sexual assault, torture, abuse
Following a fantastic trend of women kicking ass in films like Atomic Blonde, Proud Mary, and Wonder Woman comes Red Sparrow. When I first saw the trailer, I shouted at the screen, “This is basically a Black Widow movie! They’re doing a Black Widow movie!” I was over the moon. If Marvel wasn’t coughing up the resources to make it happen, I was happy that Fox was stepping up to the plate. How could this go wrong?!
Well, here we go…
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who is forced into becoming a spy after an accident destroys her career as a dancer. I use the word “forced” within the synopsis here as opposed to what the regular movie synopsis will tell you because they want you to believe that this film will be empowering to women. They want to sell you a film that looks like a woman owning her sexuality and using it to get ahead in her career. They want you to be searching for something else after that high Atomic Blonde gave us. Let me tell you how Red Sparrow is not that follow-up film.
I don’t even know where to begin with what went so wrong with this film. So many things are jarring. From Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian accent that slips in and out throughout the film, or the rest of her co-stars playing Russians who are the furthest looking things from Russians? The only actors who look even remotely Russian are super evil characters in the film (looking at you, Matthias Schoenaerts… who is actually from Belgium). Everyone else is like Evil Lite. Like, we have Ciaran Hinds who has the most Irish name and look to him… he’s playing a high profile Russian officer. British AF Joely Richardson is playing Dominika’s sickly Russian mum. Jeremy goddamn Irons and Douglas Hodge playing Russians government operatives.
I admittedly hadn’t heard Thekla Reuten’s before watching the film but immediately opens the door in her first scene and puts on her “Russian accent” I was like “REALLY? WHO CAST THIS FILM, GUYS. COME ON…” She is VERY, VERY DUTCH. None of these actors are BAD ACTORS. In fact, I quite like most of them in their respective other works, but they are NOT REMOTELY RUSSIAN. Even the more veteran actors do pretty terribly with the Russian accent; I don’t even think Jeremy Irons bothered trying.
Then you have the wonky setting. Nothing in Red Sparrow really dates it for the longest time while you watch the film. You see cell phones, pretty decent laptops, and other such things, and then all of a sudden… FLOPPY DISKS.
For you youths, floppy discs are a crazy old technology from the DAWN OF TIME. We used to use them as storage devices. Like giant flash drives! WHOA! They could hold virtually nothing on them, especially compared to nowadays and you needed a million of them to store anything.
So imagine my surprise when amongst these laptops and cellphones etc., FLOPPY DISCS SHOW UP. I’m like, “Excuse me? A-what now?” because honestly, it was jarring. Even more jarring than all the collective bad Russian accents in the film… and that was basically everyone.
Mary Louise Parker is the only breath of fresh air in the film, and she has next to no screen time. I wanted the time to imagine her in the film as her character from Red crossing over into Red Sparrow, but she came and went before I really had a chance to headcanon any of that in great length.
Joel Edgerton is thoroughly forgettable in the film. I’m still not really sure what his actual mission was? They kind of explained it but also they super didn’t… THE ASSET WILL ONLY TALK TO HIM! Except why… what info is this asset giving him? Why is he now going after Jennifer Lawrence? WHO KNOWS. Maybe the guy who wrote the book that the film is based on which is supposedly SUPER ACCURATE to like, spy stuff, I guess.
There’s no way I can write this review without mentioning the absurd amounts of rape, sexual assault, torture, and other horrific and hard to watch moments that are placed in the film for next to no reason. Red Sparrow uses so much meaningless violence against women that the message doesn’t feel even remotely empowering. The message feels more like a not-so-subtle fuck you to women everywhere who think they’re in power. Like we’re somehow all fooling ourselves and men will control the lives of women no matter what we do and how clever we are.
There are some genuinely great moments and twists within the film including the ending, but by the time we got there, I was so thoroughly traumatized by the contents of everything that came before. It was gratuitous and unnecessary in so many ways.
The writer and director could’ve subtly hinted at the trauma Dominika suffers. However, they chose to spell it out for you over and over and over again. It’s relentless in its abuse. At almost two and a half hours long, a good 30 mins could’ve been cut out if they’d just decided to not show a significant amount of assault, torture, and abuse. Heck, if they wanted to keep that 30 mins, they could’ve swapped it out for character building, or story development that would’ve helped the film pay off rather than what they chose to waste their time showing which was hugely detrimental.
I’ve used this example a few times now. Mad Max: Fury Road manages to tell us that the women within the film have been raped and sexually abused without ever actually showing us those horrific scenes. At the end of the day, less is more so take note all you fellas making films. You don’t need to spell out the sexual assault and rape. We can take a hint.
For everything that Atomic Blonde absolutely nailed, Red Sparrow did completely wrong, and despite all the things I mentioned in this review, I am so incredibly disappointed. This film could’ve been great, and instead, we got what felt like espionage torture porn.
NOPE. There’s not a lot of people that I could recommend this film to. Are you a sociopath? How about a psychopath? Someone who REALLY HATES WOMEN? Well, Red Sparrow is the film for you then.
To everyone else, steer clear unless you want residual PTSD on behalf of a fictional character.