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Non-Review Review: Red Sparrow

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Red Sparrow puts a tacky (and tame) erotic sheen on a tepid (and tawdry) espionage story.

Red Sparrow has an interesting premise, both in terms of history and in terms of genre. It is a spy film structured around one of the more unsettling and uncomfortable aspects of the Cold War, the use of espionage agents to harvest information through sexual means. It is also a premise that could serve as a fascinating deconstruction of the tropes that audiences have come to expect of such films, a timely exploration of how issues of consent apply in the sorts of deception-laden love scenes that populate the genre. Red Sparrow could be James Bond as a sexual horror story.

However, Red Sparrow is far too tame to deliver on either premise. The film is too devoted to the conventional structure and dynamics of an espionage thriller to upset the audience in the way that any meaningful exploration of this history of sexual exploitation would, and is too comfortable with the rhythms and beats of the genre to offer a searing deconstruction of how its characters frequently leverage sex as just another weapon.

As a result, Red Sparrow is a meandering and uneven example of the espionage, trapped between two stools. The film is not sordid enough to excel as a visceral thriller in its own right, and not committed enough to offer a sobering examination of its themes.

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