When Jason Matthews' best-selling spy thriller novel Red Sparrow debuted in 2013, the CIA gave it a glowing review in an official statement, toasting the former agent-turned-author's ability to convey accurately the stomach-churning tension a spy feels when covering tracks to protect sources and win the war of intelligence. Director Francis Lawrence's adaptation of Matthews' novel must be the dumbed-down version, the one the bureau won't be celebrating for its grasp of the nuances of spycraft. Rather, this Red Sparrow, written by Justin Haythe, seems to be about the desperate quest to get one sexy woman very naked. It's true that seduction is an age-old espionage tactic, but this film tells us nothing new about it -- or about Hollywood's male gaze.
In the early scenes, Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) breaks her leg during a performance. The sick crack of it made me jump in my seat. So her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) sends her on a little mission for the Kremlin to test her persuasive skills -- by seducing an oligarch -- and see if she might be a good fit for his work. This is the first of many scenes where Dominika will be asked to strip naked. At Red Sparrow spy school, her education seems to cover nothing but getting naked in front of people, with about three seconds of picking locks thrown in, too. There are other tells that this film attempting to get into a woman's psyche is written by a man: You can't successfully bleach your hair blonde with store-bought box dye; long/thick hair requires multiple boxes; you cannot, under any circumstances, go swimming in a chlorinated pool after you bleach.