MOVIE REVIEW:   Red Sparrow
            James WF Roberts

I think it is fairly safe to say that going to the movies, isn’t what it once was. There’s no excitement anymore about finding a new voice, watching a new story—now it’s franchise, after franchise sequels and prequels and threequels (yes that is a term); that nobody seemed to want—but they keep coming out of the sausage factory, with all their lunchbox merchandising and their happy meal of the week action figure, for a movie that is rated PG-13 or even doe some M rated movies.

Then, there comes along an R-rated film that you actually enjoy, find yourself immersed in the storyline, caring for the characters; about spies, political intrigue, sex, murder, even taboo sexuality and you think wow this a great God-damn film! But, you hear half the men around you in the audience saying crap like ‘oh I thought it was gonna be like a Bourne film or a Bond film, or Mission Impossible’.

This little movie Red Sparrow has a lot to offer. But, if you are after another mind-numbing James Bond rip-off or Tom Cruise spelunking off a mountain top, than Red Sparrow is not for you…  however, if you are after something that will blow your mind with its twists and turns than maybe this is not for you either.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence)  faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. After she graduates from sexy assassin school, she’s assigned a case to a cringe worthy named CIA operative Nate Nash, who would have thought  that Shooter MacGavin was a subtle name in an American film, (Joel Edgerton), who figures her out within minutes and enlists her as a double agent, or is she?

The long drawn out background story, while intense and at times quite horrific, seems to make the narrative a little too top heavy, it is almost like the Spies on both sides of the…I was going to say Iron Curtain, but didn’t, are so fantastic at their abilities that they can spot each other  within seconds of talking to each other…isn’t a spy supposed to be able to blend in and then not actually confess to being a spy.

I hate it when I like a film for its ideas and its style, but get angry over the lack of substance, and the feeling that the film makers are dumbing down the espionage and the political intrigue in the second half of the time, for the sake of mainstream appeal,  because they spent so much time building up the creepiness of the Vladimir Putin-look like, creepy uncle played, convincingly by Belgian actor, Matthias Schoenaerts, that the pay off in the end is rather lacklustre.

For all the interesting ideas running around in this film, especially with strong powerful and also vulnerable women taking the centre stage of the narrative—there of course is the inevitability of this being a Hollywood film; so every woman is naturally thrusted into one of the four female clichés; objects of desire and adoration with a heart and soul that need to be beaten into submission, the angelic mother, the masculine/faux-lesbian ruthless hag, the man-like ambitious woman  and of course the whore.

The female body count is staggering. There are so many images of naked, beautiful women being beaten, water boarded, punched in the face, raped, almost raped and tortured that several times throughout this film I thought I was watching a new entry into the Hostel torture porn series.

It is the oldest cliché in the Hollywood arsenal to have a rape or assault explain the motivation for revenge or violence. Red Sparrow takes this to a whole new level.  It doesn’t take one assault to shape Dominika—it takes an endless barrage. One hour into the film, as she’s being beaten with a pipe by Russian government officials, you could feel the audience’s mood shift toward extreme discomfort.  Then of course there is the question that is asked so often in the movie by the likes of the wasted Jeremy Irons and several other characters, ‘what sort of man puts his niece in that (meaning whore) school ?’.  The answer of course is ‘a patriot’.

Jennifer Lawrence has been quite outspoken in support of the film, its nudity, sexual exploitation etc, by saying, “if you don’t like my boobs, don’t watch it’; which is a shame because this could have so much more in the way of making a feminist stand, or a statement of empowerment.

There are many elements to this film that could make it work as a decent spy movie, think John Le Carre’ s the Tailor of Panama, or The Ipcress File, Frederick Forsyth’s the Fourth Protocol, but too many elements just don’t work. Joel Edgerton’s Nate Nash is over written in exposition rather letting us see his flaws, why he is not that good at his job, his personal vices etc, rather than having the Russian spiel off all of his vices like they are reading it a Facebook profile.


Here’s another thing that was glaring and annoying throughout the entire film, if the person who wrote the book, a one Jason Matthews was actually a former CIA operative, why is the Prima Ballerina of the world’s most famous continually touring ballet company recruited into the world of sex-pionage—I can see how his would have worked in the cold war era or even the early post-cold war era of the 1990’s, but surely the Dominika’s face and name would be all over social media in one or way another—isn’t a spy supposed to be anonymous?

Another question how can the Chief of Staff of a US Senator be able to fly in and out of Europe for days at a stretch and not realise there are alarm bells triggering everywhere…since when does a Chief of Staff have that much free time?

Edgerton’s Nash is boring not fleshed out at all, and it leaves one thinking, is there more to it on the cutting room floor, the Dominika character is so engrossing so engaging, that to have a bored, gum-shoe style CiA operative falling in love with her, enough to make her want to switch sides is rather naff—but apparently there is already a sequel n print so be ready for another bloody lame franchise.

There are twists and turns galore in this supposedly sexy-spy thriller, but as you pretty much can see the major plot point of the Russian mole talking to the US; you figure it out pretty damn quickly who it is, which sadly is not really worth the effort. Isn’t the whole point twist in a spy thriller, one that you don’t see coming but when it is revealed makes perfect sense?