Review: Red Sparrow

Falling somewhere between Atomic Blonde and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy if it were written and directed by horny teenage boys, you’d be forgiven for tearing Red Sparrow apart for ugliness, horrendously confused sexual politics, and treatment of women if it weren’t for the fact it’s a soul crushing bore.

Oh how we giggled with excitement when the first trailer for Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow dropped as it nodded to the Black Widow movie that still doesn’t exist. Sure, it was a bit of a snide giggle, but this new wannabe action-spy-thriller from the Hunger Games director bares no likenesses to the Marvel stable character bar being Russian and a one woman espionage machine.

In this age of #MeToo, a much more impressive focus of female empowerment on screen (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Atomic Blonde), watching Red Sparrow is a perplexing experience given how twisted its gender politics is.

With a basic plot device that sees Bolshoi ballerina Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) break her leg which, like a lame horse after a race day, would end her career and see her thrown out (or shot if she were a horse), in comes her Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) – a senior soviet spy official – to her rescue.

After involving Dominika in a mission that goes pear shaped, Unkie Vans ships Dominika off to Whores Who Kill School where she is to be trained to use her feminine wiles to influence men and extract information for the State.

Meanwhile a U.S. operative (Joel Edgerton), desperate to reconnect with a mole in the Russian Government he fears has gone to ground after a botched exchange…

Sounds kind of thrilling with enough hints of convolution to keep you interested but sadly neither Lawrence or screenwriter Justin Haythe can foster any sense of thrills or tension in this big screen adaptation of Jason Matthews’ book.

Instead, Red Sparrow disfigures female empowerment in flagrant misogynistic ways. The treatment of women throughout the film is staggeringly bad as they are subjected to not one but two rapes, brutal torture sequences, graphic violence, and frequent and entirely gratuitous nudity. It’s as if both director and writer have completely missed the definition of female empowerment and used it as a leering vehicle to realise pseudo-sexual fantasies on screen.

A woman is all but forced to perform oral sex on a character but the story line is never completed, Dominika (A dancer) inexplicably turns into a choreographed fighting machine with no explanation, An American traitor subplot involving an entirely wasted Mary-Louise Parker is given no depth, and, moreover, the lack of understanding in sexual and gender politics the film clearly thinks it has a handle on is breathtaking.

All that aside, the biggest crime the film commits is that it is deathly boring. The opening preamble (almost 10 minutes until the title card pops up) is a virtual how-to guide on how not to open a movie. From there it’s another 130 minutes of bad accents and rote dialogue intercut with scenes of mildly interesting action and/or sexual innuendos yet the production never misses a beat in ensuring that its star is overtly sexualised in nearly every frame in how she sits, what she wears (or doesn’t), or what she says.

And this is where the film is so entirely problematic – what is it the film is saying about female empowerment? Is it really saying anything or trying to hide behind it to exact a brutal Hollywood financed misogynistic take down once again? You be the judge.

★★

RED SPARROW is in CINEMAS NOW!