Movie Review: Red Sparrow
If you’re looking for a good spy thriller, search literally anywhere else than here.
From the open to close of Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence‘s character Dominika Egorova is brutalized in every way possible. Her leg is viciously broken, robbing her of her life’s work of being a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi in Moscow. She is raped, beaten, groped, tortured, another attempted rape, beaten some more, stabbed — all in the service of the state’s “Sparrow” program, which teaches agents to use their sexuality to engage in spycraft.
Really? It’s more of a pretense for patriarchy — state sanctioned sex slavery where the price of not complying is a bullet in your head — and the film plays out more like a snuff film than a spy thriller.
No. Just no. This is the opposite of smart. This movie does nothing that is not telegraphed a mile away.
And it’s just tiring to see a movie literally based around the single conceit of a woman robbed of any agency or efficacy. I can see why acolytes of our sexual-assaulter-in-chief or alpha male Vladimir Putin would enjoy it.
In case it isn’t clear, this movie will be incredibly triggering for rape survivors. Beyond that, it’s just gross. Anyone who enjoys watching this is highly suspect.
This movie is rated R for “strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.” Once again, the MPAA completely fails and exposes itself as a tool of a cishet normative patriarchy. This time, its shortcoming is not in unnecessarily censoring things, but in not warning audiences exactly how disturbing this film is. An R rating simply isn’t sufficient, nor is a dreaded NC-17, which I’m sure this film was never actually in danger of getting.
Let’s break this down: “some graphic nudity” means a short shot that includes a wide angle on a naked man showing his penis. That’s what’s “graphic” according to the MPAA — dong. If that had been omitted, it’s unclear what the MPAA would have said about the female nudity in the film, which is always always always coupled with violence. The MPAA simply has no problem with the sex and violence of this movie, as it’s all heterosexual and it’s all womens’ bodies. It’s R. And it’s the same R as, say, Atomic Blonde, or Lady Bird. And that is absolutely ridiculous, especially in a world where Call Me By Your Name has to be careful not to get an NC-17 rating because it involves homosexuality.
It shouldn’t be surprising, since the MPAA is upholding the same traditional power structures that underpin so much of what is wrong in America today. And anyone who doesn’t see what’s wrong with the film and why it might be offensive is, frankly, part of the problem.
The job of a film critic is often to sit through garbage so you, the audience, doesn’t have to. This is garbage.
And it didn’t have to be! Jennifer Lawrence is amazing, and here’s she’s reunited with the same director from the last three Hunger Games movies. A sexy spy thriller? Yes please! Set in the geopolitik of American-Russian relations? How timely!
What’s not timely? How tonedeaf this film is in its graphic depictions of rape and violence towards women during the #MeToo moment.
Someone who has no idea what the words “consent” or “agency” mean might see nothing wrong with this film. But at no point does our main character have any control over her own destiny. Even at the (spoiler alert? IDGAF) relatively triumphant ending — yay! our heroine is victorious! — all she really has done is climbed the ladder in a violent, patriarchal state. She didn’t break the system, she merely played it to get what she needed. She’s Cersei Lannister, not Daenerys Targaryen.
This film was at one time talked about as though it was a sort of Black Widow movie that wasn’t really a Black Widow movie. It’s not. A Black Widow movie would be great– a kickass spy thriller with a smart woman manipulating everyone around her set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Red Sparrow is a blueprint for exactly what not to do.
Natasha Romanoff is always in control. Even if she’s following orders, she’ll go rogue when it meets her personal moral compass. Even if she’s tied to a chair and getting punched by a Russian in the opening of The Avengers, she’s in control, and she’s the one actually doing the interrogation. She subverts perceptions of power to use it. And so everything that Black Widow is, Red Sparrow is not.
It’s also incredibly long. It feels every second of its 2 hour 20 minute runtime. And so much of it was completely unnecessary. It’s like a horrible meal in an awful restaurant, and the servings are ginormous.
If you thought the year couldn’t sink any lower than Fifty Shades Freed. you were wrong. As misogynistic and rapey as that is, this takes it to a completely different level.
If you’d like to hear me swear loudly in Russian about how much I hated this movie, check out this week’s episode of the Bored as Hell podcast, where we also talk about Game Night, Annihilation, and make our Oscar picks.