I don’t have much to say about Red Sparrow, so I’ll keep this review fairly short. With Russia being in the news so often now, a film like this was bound to come along eventually: one that essentially paints the country as a terrorist state which trains an arsenal of espionage agents to do its bidding. Except, in this iteration, those agents are mostly attractive women who learn to use their bodies to entice their victims into giving them what they want. A lot of it is farfetched to be sure, but one can still imagine something like this existing. After all, Russia seems to be capable of anything these days (including poisoning their ex-spies with military-grade nerve agents), and weaponizing female bodies is hardly an impossible task. That “whore school” Jennifer Lawrence’s character attends, for instance, is not as unconventional as it first sounds. I can totally see it existing somewhere in the hinterlands, desensitizing its cadets to shame and moral decency so that they can go out into the world and sow their discord. That’s what I found interesting about this. It fools you at the outset into thinking you’re going to be seeing another pulpy spy thriller, and then presents you with strangely feasible scenarios that, coupled with the graphic violence and sexual content, make you fear for the real world you’re living in.
The weaknesses here lie more on the lines of the knotty plot, which feels too self-conscious about meeting our generic expectations. I feel a simpler approach wouldn’t have hurt, because it would’ve made us digest the horrors of the Sparrow program in a fuller sense. When we’re caught up with the labyrinthine plot twists, those grotesque moments keep getting pushed back into the distance, and come off as not warranting closer analysis. In fact, there are times when the film itself seems somewhat embarrassed by what transpires, and would rather hurry along at a modest trot to get to the next revelation. Francis Lawrence could’ve made some cuts and focused more on the implications of Dominika’s ordeal. It would’ve made sitting through the tough stuff more… meaningful, if that’s the word. Not just a sordid spectacle, which is what it tends to become (and why a lot of people are so viscerally turned off by it).