Red Sparrow

Hollywood is filled with hypocrites. Here’s an example. Mia Farrow (for obvious reasons) and other actresses have told people to boycott Woody Allen, yet they sign things in support of Roman Polanski who was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. They all complain about Harvey Weinstein (and rightly so), but they give an Oscar, and standing ovation, to Polanski.

When all the #metoo stuff started breaking, Jennifer Lawrence told a story about how horrible it was that for one movie, the producers made her line up with other women, all in their bra and panties, because they were looking for a certain body type. A female producer told Lawrence she was too fat. A male producer said she looked fine, and perfectly “fu**able.”

It was hard to muster sympathy for Lawrence when I heard the story, because she’s making $20 million a film, and she decided to go into this line of work. Just as I wouldn’t feel bad for a woman working at the Ford Modelling agency that is scrutinized for how she looks. But if Lawrence felt this experience was so degrading, I’m not sure how she can do a film like Red Sparrow. There’s one scene where she takes off all her clothes, spreads her leg on a table, and taunts a man to rape her. Now, are we to believe it’s not as humiliating this time, because she’s doing it for a role? Well, isn’t that the same logic the producers were using when judging the female body types? Don’t get me wrong, I think the story she told was awful. Especially since it doesn’t seem hard for producers to judge a body type with clothes on.

And perhaps that scene wouldn’t have bothered me so much if this movie didn’t go so over-the-top with the violence, torture, and rape. It was all gratuitous and quite frankly, disgusted me.

Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence, mostly nailing the Russian accent) is a ballerina at the Bolshoi, and a star on the rise. She suffers a career-ending leg injury that rivals Joe Theismann’s. This means she won’t be provided a place to live or healthcare for her sick mom (Joely Richardson). Her uncle (the always interesting and creepy Matthias Schoenaerts) convinces her to join Russian intelligence as one of the “Sparrows.” Or, as Dominika calls it in a later scene — whore school. That training is run by Charlotte Rampling, who along with the Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds, are all too talented to be involved in this mess. Anyway, it’s fun to watch the class learning how to pick locks, but the story falls apart when Rampling preaches about the art of manipulation and seduction. Now in Salt, you could buy the premise that Russian is taking genius kids at the age of 5, and brainwashing and training them to become the ultimate spies. I just don’t see how taking young adults and making them have oral sex with prisoners, in front of an entire class, would have any women involved; or that they’d become comfortable enough to go out on the field and act like a Bond girl — seducing the spy while gathering info. Especially after the first incident involving Dominika. She’s being raped and a mercenary strangles the guy that’s raping her. Yet after that, and three months of classes, she’s all prepared to go out and trick American CIA Agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). It doesn’t help that the Nash character isn’t given enough depth, and that Edgerton seems miscast.

The torture scenes are more painful for the audience. It reminded me of the James Bond movie in which Daniel Craig is tied to a chair and the villain used metal balls attached to a chain, and swung it around like Pete Townshend, before smashing them into his testicles. He did this three times, which made me cringe first, and then wonder…would Bond ever be able to have another Bond girl? My complaint with that scene was how “torture” used to be fun in Bond films. It would have 007 tied to a table with a laser going towards his crotch. He’d nervously ask Goldfinger, “Do you expect me to talk?” At which Goldfinger would laugh and reply, “No Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”

In this movie, there’s nothing enjoyable about watching Dominika getting punched in the jaw, having her arm broken, being raped (multiple times), and finding her roommate bloodied and skinned in the bathtub. Now, had she gotten revenge the way the girl with the dragon tattoo did…(side note: this movie borrows an awful lot from that film).

It was nice to see Mary-Louise Parker in a scene, as an alcoholic politician taking bribes.

It was nice to hear James Newton Howard’s score (of the over 100 movies he’s done, three were favorites — The Fugitive, The Sixth Sense, and Prince of Tides). In this, he evoked Russian composers well.

Cinematographer Jo Willems and production designer Maria Djurkovic give us nice visuals.

This is all from a novel by Jason Matthews, and I’m not sure if it was screenwriter Justin Haythe or director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games, also with Jennifer Lawrence) that ruined the story. About halfway through this, I started thinking that maybe Atomic Blonde wasn’t as bad as I initially thought. And the craziest thing is, the filmmakers probably think this is feminism.

It needed 30 or 40 minutes taken out of the 2 ½ hour run time, and needed to drop rape as a plot device.

All of this is so unrealistic and overly complicated, and it had a very predictable third act.

2 stars out of 5.