Red Sparrow (2018)
March 4, 2018 1:33 PM - Subscribe

Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to 'Sparrow School' a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. But her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

New York Times' Manohla Dargis In the preposterously entertaining “Red Sparrow,” Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina turned murderous spy. And why not?

Russian spies are apparently everywhere, and we seem to be in the middle of the Cold War 2.0. Anyone who has ever watched a ballet also knows how terrifyingly capable dancers are, with their steely strength, athleticism and discipline. Ms. Lawrence, best known as the teenage survivalist turned savior Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” series, has played rough before, so when her character in “Red Sparrow” brutally twists in a knife, it’s almost like old home week.

AVClub's Jesse Hassenger A lavishly costumed, location-enhanced thriller, Red Sparrow carries itself along briskly enough (even with a 139-minute running time, the most indulgent thing about it), but it’s never especially brain-twisting or nerve-wracking. Beyond Lawrence staring out from her severe bangs, its best curlicues are provided by the well-stocked supporting cast, especially Mary-Louise Parker, who enlivens a crucial scene playing an American contact. Still, this movie can’t be accused of inconsistency. It approaches the material (a novel by former CIA officer Jason Matthews) with methodical professionalism, aimed at adult moviegoers. Like Dominika after her initial injury, it gets the job done, and doesn’t get too balletic about it.'s Christy Lemire Jennifer Lawrence is tied to a chair, beaten and tortured. She is the victim of rape and attempted rape. She is forced to strip naked in private and in public. She is slashed, stabbed and has a gun put to her head.

Ostensibly, such graphic ordeals are intended to demonstrate the physical and psychological fortitude of her character, a Russian spy named Dominika Egorova. But ultimately, these shocking and violent sequences become repetitive and gratuitous, making “Red Sparrow” feel more like a cheap exercise in exploitation than a visceral tale of survival.

Surely there’s more to spycraft than knowing the perfect spot to caress on a target’s thigh, or how delicately to whisper into his ear. But this is about the extent of the training she receives. (Oh! She also learns how to pick locks.) Dominika is right when she complains that she’s been sent to “whore school” alongside other attractive and tough-minded young people who are being molded to serve Russia’s secret intelligence. What she endures is more than just degrading—it’s destructive. And as a solitary tool set, it wouldn’t seem to prepare her for the many dangers headed her way.

Previous discussion of the trailer on the Blue.
posted by octothorpe (16 comments total)
This what we have where a better timeline has the record-breaking opening of Black Widow this weekend.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:28 PM on March 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

We went to see it last night and it wasn't at all what I was expecting. From the trailers, I assumed that it would be much more of an action picture and it's much more of a slow (at times very slow) Le Carre wanna-be. It's not a terrible film but it's not very good either. Lawrence and Edgerton are both solid and at least Edgerton doesn't have to talk with a dumb fake accent but they're not even slightly believable as a romantic couple or as super-spies.
posted by octothorpe at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really like espionage stories and generally enjoy Jennifer Lawrence, but this movie was not for me.

David Sims in The Atlantic describes Red Sparrow as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but only if it were directed by Showgirls-era Paul Verhoeven." I find that review mostly sums up my feelings about this movie, although Sims means that description in a more positive way than I do. This movie dispenses with any interesting spycraft or plot in favor of all the torture porn it can manage. I thought the ending was about as telegraphed as possible.

On the bright side, Mary-Louise Parker was a lot of fun in her small role. Jeremy Irons didn't get much to do, which was too bad.

Looking forward to the return of The Americans in a few weeks.
posted by the primroses were over at 3:09 PM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

but they're not even slightly believable as a romantic couple or as super-spies.

My read on her character isn't that she's a super spy, it's that she's super committed to revenge. As in, if-I-have-to-kill-the-both-of-us-I-will-by-god-get-back-at-you committed. In the beginning her Uncle says to her, "Dominika, you always did have a temper." Her use-all-the-tools/resources that I have at hand no matter who or what they are contrasts with the American spy who cares about his resources and tries to take precautions. I didn't find them believable as a couple either, but again my reading is that it's on purpose. Her Uncle keeps calling Nate "the handsome American" and her character says, "he's handsome?!? You think so?!?" (which was my reaction, too. Sorry actor dude, you're not handsome, you seem nice, tho.)
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 3:59 PM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The vox review compares the violations that Dominika experiences to the (admittedly gentler) dehumanization of stardom.
posted by grandiloquiet at 5:09 PM on March 4, 2018

I wanted to like this quite a lot more than I did, in part because of the Black Widow thing and in part because I wanted it to be another Atomic Blonde, which I liked so much that I hesitated before even mentioning it in the same breath. It's not just the sexual violence and torture porn--although there is plenty of both--but also the weirdly anachronistic feel of the movie; I didn't know that it was supposed to be set in the present day until I realized that the cars were current models, and a big part of the plot at the heart of the movie revolves around 3.5" floppy discs, of all the things. Lawrence looks right for the part--plausibly Slavic--but Joel Edgerton just comes off as Generic Unshaven Action Dude. I hope that Scarlett Johansen gets better treatment when we finally get our solo Natasha movie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:49 PM on March 4, 2018

I'm so sick of young women being paired with old guys. Egerton is 16 years older than her. I know such couplings happen in real life, but I feel like it's all we ever see in movies.
posted by smoke at 2:07 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I will take the minority position: I largely enjoyed it, though it wasn't exactly a pleasant movie. I felt Lawrence really did bring a murderous toughness to the role that minimized any torture-porn aspect. (That scene where she disdains her would-be rapist into being unable to get it up--brutal.) From the very beginning (the creep's hand on her back while she smiles for the camera at the Bolshoi), the movie is about the staging of femininity as a means of women's survival. But unlike some other works in this genre, it's open to their use of more savage tools as well.

Egerton was super-miscast, though, to the point that they had to lampshade how out of his league she was. I think he was supposed to react to her like Tom Hardy to his contact in the recent Tinker Tailor, but it did not work.

Would I rather have had a Black Widow movie? For sure. But porque no los dos?
posted by praemunire at 8:53 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

(The 3.5-inch floppies were just inexplicable, though.)
posted by praemunire at 8:53 AM on March 5, 2018

Based on the mouthbreather behind me who started jerking it during the bathtub murder..
I'm gonna say the staging of femininity was upstaged by the gratuitous torture porn.
posted by fritillary at 11:19 PM on March 5, 2018

but also the weirdly anachronistic feel of the movie; I didn't know that it was supposed to be set in the present day until I realized that the cars were current models, and a big part of the plot at the heart of the movie revolves around 3.5" floppy discs, of all the things.

The whole thing seems like such a 70s or 80s cold war throwback that I'm not sure why they didn't just set it in the past.
posted by octothorpe at 4:58 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's really weird too timeline wise, because nothing really requires modern day tech either. The first 'mission' could be swap out wallets with a bug or something, and she even uses a payphone to call in the ballerina assault. I wonder why it was set modern day, maybe to make a more current political point?
posted by Carillon at 11:38 AM on March 6, 2018

Honestly might've just been for budgetary reasons--they were already using multiple foreign locations and might not want to have invested in period sets, too?
posted by praemunire at 3:03 PM on March 6, 2018

I truly hope that some MAGA-hats emerge from this movie realizing that Donald Trump's... appetites... could have easily generated kompromat.
posted by carmicha at 12:20 PM on March 10, 2018

Watching it while quite drunk made the plotholes vanish. The CIA guy is forgettable and she cares far more about her mother, her survival and revenge on her uncle who was the true romantic evil counterpart to her. He was delightful. I liked the sudden bloody gore of the violence against all the other textures - peeling paint, rained cobblestones, fuzzy carpet hangings, lace brocade. Subduded colours in each scene but layers and layers of visual textures to suggest touching and sensation.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:28 PM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is similar to Atomic Blonde in that it's a bad spy story that seems mainly about presenting an attractive woman in aesthetic situations, but whereas Atomic Blonde was trying to be badass, Red Sparrow just seems to be about misogynistic thrills. Towards the end when it's Joel Edgerton's turn to be tortured, it's with a magic cheese slicer and we see no blood, no wound, no aesthetic appetite at all.
posted by fleacircus at 10:19 PM on December 1, 2018

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