Jennifer Lawrence is a badass spy in this definitely-not-for-kids spy thriller that kicks off an interesting piece of dialogue in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
The last few months in the entertainment industry have certainly been upsetting, to say the least. From the predatory behavior of big-wig producers to the disgusting level of power levied by similarly powerful Hollywood players, for once, the artist has finally become intertwined with their art. What once was a world in which the Oscars would don Best Director awards to convicted rapists and actresses would be swept aside if they did so much as utter a peep about slimy producers’ indiscretions has now begun to evolve to better reflect the humanity and dignity that each and everyone one of us deserves–especially in a professional setting.
But there are a few professions that seem like they’ll never see their light of day. In a world where death, deceit, and alter egos are but part and parcel of the dangerous world of spies, it comes as no surprise that espionage will forever remain in the dark, unsavory underbelly of voicelessness. Sure, the James Bond and Kingsman series have painted the world of underground government liasones in a brightly colored, rosy-tinted façade, but the world of Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow seems to showcase a more brutal world of spying. Adapted from the novel of the same name by former CIA agent Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow tells the story of Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ballerina star in Moscow who must now navigates and eventually climbs the ranks of the disturbing Russian spy world. After suffering a career-ending leg injury thanks to an overly jealous colleague (I guess Aronofsky wasn’t too far off in Black Swan), she is left with few choices. And that’s when her prickly and deceiving high-brass uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) comes into the picture.
With little options left, Egorova is coerced by Ivan into working on a highly secretive operation where she must seduce a wanted man, or as they put it, enemy of the state (we begin to learn as the film goes on that the state sure does have a whole lot of them). After a bungled operation in which Egorova is saved just in the knick of time (or more disturbingly, just after it), Egorova is put in a position she does not want to be in: enter the Sparrow School where the state teaches young women to use their sexuality as a weapon or be assassinated as a means of covering up any loose ends. With her mother’s sickness growing ever worse and no money in sight, Egorova joins the school in the hopes that she be able to take care of her mother as well as herself.
Soon, head honcho Matron (played with brutal efficacy by Charlotte Rampling) begins brutally teaching, or rather, psychologically bludgeoning, the young Egorova the tools of the spy trade–seduction, manipulation, blackmail, and violence, all through her sexuality. To Russian intelligence officials, this method of extracting information, assassinating targets, and blackmailing potential moles is all in a day’s work. They toss aside any sense of morality or righteousness. These women’s bodies are the state’s bodies. Their job is but one–protect and serve the state at all costs. And the cost of that is often psychological and physical trauma, wherein women are forced to perform demeaning sexual acts in front of their classmates and the stone-cold Matron who teaches her pupils to have absolutely no sense of remorse or pride. With a penchant for survival, Egorova graduates from the sadistic school only to enter the ever more topsy-turvy world of espionage.
Director Francis Lawrence has certainly brought in his Hunger Games prowess to play in this espionage flick. From the perpetual unease to the well-used triple-A cast, Lawrence does an excellent job of providing a wildly entertaining film. While some viewers may think that violence and torture scenes seem a bit glib and unnecessary, it is a refreshing execution (no pun intended) that often works to keep audiences’ gripped during the somewhat excessive 140 minute runtime. Lawrence even seems to be utilizing the #MeToo movement as a means of pointing out that the rampant sexual harassment that we are observing in fashion, politics, film, television, literature, media, and so many, many more industries is not exclusive to them. Perhaps there are more businesses and trades that need to be magnified and examined. And while the espionage community seems to be a particularly excessive example, it may be that Lawrence is pointing out all the other industries that have yet to be held accountable. Perhaps the world of espionage is but a metaphor for the most unnoticeable industries that have yet to change or be held accountable for its nauseating standards of operation.
But thankfully, it seems that this running metaphor is yet to be concluded. With a seven-figure film adaptation deal paid to book’s writer Jason Matthews before production even began (or the script was even completed), it seems that the old guard of Hollywood envision this as yet another franchise akin to Hunger Games or other modern, trilogy-necessary film series. But while other film franchises like Star Wars, Hunger Games, and others are aimed young adults and teens, it seems that Red Sparrow is poised to take on those responsibilities for R-rated audiences. Therefore, it seems as no surprise that the sequel to the book is already in the works, with the film rights for that book already paid for in the multi-million dollar deal. Let’s just hope that doesn’t go by the way of Game of Thrones, with the adaptation coming to be its own entity, for Matthews truly does have quite a series to expound on his hands.
Red Sparrow is set to hit theaters March 2.