Red Sparrow commits the deadly sin of the spy thriller by being boring and poorly paced and tops it off with rape, attempted rape, and sexual coercion.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Summary: 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.
If you're going by the trailers or the marketing for Red Sparrow, you might think this is the long-awaited Black Widow movie finally emerging from the shadows. Or perhaps something along the lines of last summer's Atomic Blonde. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The marketing for this movie is not only deceiving in the pacing and the tone, but also the content.
This movie kicks off with a full-on rape scene followed an attempted rape scene, and multiple scenes of women being forced to strip and pleasure people against their will. The movie feels like it's going for the "but she's in charge" angle, but Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is not in charge, because she did not choose to be come a "sparrow". It was either that or die, and that is coercion.
The spy genre is all about getting people to tell their secrets, but Dominika is not trained in anything else but seduction. If she is, we don't see those skills and we don't witness them in the movie. There is not one moment where she fights her way out of a situation; there is not a single action scene in this movie. This is a slow burn spy thriller, but when it tries to be that, it forgets the intrigue. It's boring and poorly paced, which makes the punishing run time of two hours and twenty minutes feel like it goes on forever. These sort of movies can work (see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), but this is too busy trying to come up with another way to degrade its female character to focus on anything related to being a spy.
The misleading marketing is ultimately the thing that is going to tank this movie, but the true bullet to the kneecap is just how bored everyone involved looks. Lawrence is very good with the "1000-yard stare", but that's not the look of a woman that is going to make you tell her all of your secrets. That is the look of a victim, and the movie never acknowledges that's what Dominika is. It's too busy taking swipes at the low-hanging fruit of state schools in Russia making their own femme fatales. It's like the source material has no idea that women can be spies and powerful without spreading their legs.
Red Sparrow is a spy thriller with very little spying and even fewer thrills. The constant sexually violent undertone is uncomfortable to watch, and not in the striking, profound way the movie seems to think it does. This is not a victim becoming as survivor. This is just watching a woman be systematically screwed by everyone around her until the 11th hour. By then, it's way too late for all involved.