“Red Sparrow” is the “Black Widow” movie we’ve been waiting for and its rated R.” This statement has been circled around by few critics and many audience members, but I completely disagree with this statement. “Red Sparrow” is a spy thriller that focuses on a story that takes place in Russia with Russian characters, yet not that much Russian is spoken. Despite the lack of accurate linguistics, “Red Sparrow” focuses on the plot of a former ballerina whose abysmal injury keeps her from being able to dance ever again. Left with no options and a mother that is requiring of daily medical treatment, she is coerced into a secretly operative program by her Uncle which teaches her the powers of seduction and manipulation. She’s forced into a corner and has to learn how to play a dangerous game to survive.
“Red Sparrow” is quite the opposite of what a “Black Widow” film would look like. A “Black Widow” movie would be more action-packed, humorous, and overall more entertaining than the film I saw today. In all reality, “Red Sparrow” harkens back to last year’s “Atomic Blonde” more than that of a “Black Widow” film. Like “Atomic Blonde,” “Red Sparrow” is a film that struggles to gain any sense of intensity or tension within its narrative. Despite the exceptional technicality of the film, “Red Sparrow” has almost nothing going for it and has some subliminal visuals that are a bit haunting for today’s socio-political climate.
The narrative centers around the idea of women, and men, using their bodies as weapons for intelligence. While it's nice to see men in that role that are usually accustomed for women, providing a balance to sexual manipulation in filmmaking in which we can begin to understand that both men and women can be manipulated to do sexual favors. While that is something that is refreshing for our current climate of filmography, watching Jennifer Lawrence reveal every inch of her body on the silver screen was a bit distressing. Rumorly, these scenes were embellishing for her, as she recently had her private photos thrown all over the internet for the world to see. She saw these scenes as moments to take back control over her body, but with the #MeToo movement growing in popularity in which its voice is rightfully being heard, I can’t say that a few of these scenes weren’t a little awkward to watch.
To add on to that feeling of distress is a female heroine being driven to action by hitting rock bottom through the means of sexual abuse, rape in fact. Once again, we have a female character being inspired to become someone of significance and power through the pain of rape. We rarely see our male heroes placed in this vulnerable position, but we see women suffer this fate throughout media. From “Game of Thrones” to “Kill Bill,” it seems that male writers struggle to confound a reason as to why these characters should be out for revenge or out to gain power over those who have control over them.
Placing all of that lack of perspective aside, “Red Sparrow” also suffers from being able to intensify the story. Much like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” or “Atomic Blonde,” a lot of the film feels slow and insignificant despite the technical beauty to be found. A large base of the film can be found in conversations that don’t reflect the powers of sexuality, but rather the power of intelligence in being two steps ahead of everyone else. Our heroine uses her body at times, but most of the time she’s using her cleverness and ability to manipulate through flirtation instead of coition. Unlike “Atomic Blonde” though, there isn’t a massively well-directed action sequence within the third that provides some dose of excitement to it all. There is the revelation of the spy aspects of it all, and there is a dose of brutality given, but the overall film leads to a resolution that fits into a generic spy thriller. It’s predictable but elegantly manifested, as the technicality of the film is what gives “Red Sparrow” some praise, beginning with the performances.
Though the actors and actresses struggle to maintain their Russian accent throughout the entirety of the runtime, the performances are well directed. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a very deceptious performance in which she manages intrigue in her actions as if she the actress is trying to keep the audience guessing. It’s meta at times, but the writing behind her acting leads to her feeling unpowerful and skewed towards a particular perspective. Joel Edgerton is excellent as always, but his chemistry with his co-star is almost vapid. It’s as if her techniques of persuasion become conspicuous because they never feel believable due to us the audience believing she’s the puppet master of these situations and everyone else is the puppets. Mary Louise-Parker has an entertaining appearance, and Jeremy Irons is superb, but these performances feel as vapid as the last two due to the self-contradicting writing.
The cinematography is sweepingly beautiful at times. The use of colors like red is remarkably eye-catching. The direction is good, but it never packs a punch worth noting. James Newton Howard provides another excellent score, despite the screenplay outshouting every tremendous rhythmic note produced by the underrated genius. “Red Sparrow,” as you can tell, plays like that of a great debate in which for every pro you can list there is a credible counterargument to be made. While that makes for a great conversation, that type of filmmaking doesn’t make for a great movie as “Red Sparrow” will most likely fall to the waste side like it's far cousin, “Atomic Blonde, did during the summer of 2017.
Simply put, if you have the money and want something to watch then go for it. But if your unsure as to if it's worth the $10 ticket, in this aspiring critic’s opinion, no. There’s a lot to like, but there's more to dislike which is why “Red Sparrow” is another example of what happens when a film is made from someone who doesn’t share the perspective of its lead. Another showcase as to why more variable perspectives are needed for movies dealing with such specificity. Hollywood, it's time to start listening. If you want an example, ask Ryan Coogler just how well his voice is being received at the box office.