Review: ‘Red Sparrow’ features Jennifer Lawrence as a less-empowering version of Black Widow

In Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV, Lifestyle, Reviews
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Red Sparrow,” the thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, follows a Russian ballerina turned murderous spy. If at surface level that sounds cliché, it doesn’t get much better once the audience delves deeper into it.

The film is an adaptation based off the 2013 book, “Red Sparrow” written by former CIA operative Jason Matthews. The book was received well by many and even had some positive reviews about its authenticity regarding its depiction of the CIA. Matthews sold the movie rights, and thus this film was born.

Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina, Dominika Egorova, who performs in the renowned Bolshoi Theatre. During a performance, Egorova suffers a career-ending injury, which takes away her only form of income.

She goes to her uncle, Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), for help, who holds a position in foreign intelligence and tells her about an undercover job to apply for. With no money and a very sick mother, Egorova seemingly has no other options. She takes her uncle up on his offer to act as a honeypot in order to get closer to a man that is of government interest.

The Russian government requires her to do much more than she originally expected when what unfolds during her encounter brings her to the decision to either die or become a sparrow.

During the opening scenes and throughout the film, director Francis Lawrence seizes every opportunity he has to use variations of the color red to remind the viewer of her character. Egorova adorns a red leotard during the ballet, wears a brilliant red dress during her first undercover mission and sometimes flaunts a red lip from time to time. Even the male spies in the film wear red ties. In every opportunity that Francis Lawrence was able to showcase the color red, he did.

During the film, Egorova’s ability to hold her own against the male spies seems geared toward women empowerment; however, the film misses that mark for a couple of reasons.

Yes, she is a trained spy who isn’t going to let the government, let alone a man, tell her what to do, but she also plays into the stereotype that women have to use their bodies in order to get what they want. The message that women can do what they want with their bodies is an important one, but in this instance she wasn’t really given that option, so it works against the intended message.

Her character is a lot like Black Widow in a few ways, and not only because of the color and animal name combination, their Russian descent or ballet careers. Black Widow was trained in the Red Room along with other girls to become spies, and Red Sparrow also underwent similar training. Both characters believe they are doing the right thing, the only difference is that Black Widow doesn’t seem to use her body as leverage nearly as much as her skill.

And because of that, Red Sparrow was a little disappointing. The film was gorgeous and the constant play on the color red was a nice touch, even in its most subtle moments. However, Red Sparrow’s character could have been so much more, but instead the focus was on manipulation through sex.

The book has been approved to be adapted into a sequel, and the hope is that the next adaptation shows improvement.

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