CW: This book—like the upcoming movie—would be pretty firmly rated R. I will not go into much detail, but some of the themes and events in these books may be upsetting even with the vague references I will give. I would not even recommend sensitive viewers to watch the trailer.
Like most of the world, I opened YouTube recently to discover a trailer accouncing that the ever-popular Jennifer Lawrence was going to be playing in a new spy movie called “Red Sparrow.” Now, I’m a sucker for strong female-led spy and actions movies, but I wasn’t too sure that the trailer looked like a movie I’d be interested in. I did, however, think that I might be interested in the book. So, I hunted it down and read it, hoping it would have a bit more depth than the trailer.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews is about Dominika, a young russian ballerina who has to leave ballet school because of an injury. She ends up getting recruited by her uncle to seduce an enemy of the state. While they are together, they kill him, and she gets thrown into the world of espionage. She is given the choice to become an operative or continue with the rest of her life—only her mother would lose her house and everything else since her uncle would be paying for it after her father’s death.
Dominika decides that she can be a spy and that she will be the best one there is. Only, no one believes she can because most of the women trained are only really used in “honeypot traps” wherein the girl seduces a mark and either turns him to their side, gets him into a blackmail situation, or gets information through pillow talk. Because of this, they send her to Sparrow School (also known as “whore school”) and are constantly trying to get her to use her body to get information instead of her mind.
This frustrates Dominika to no end, and she is constantly trying to prove herself outside the bedroom. She eventually gets a great job prospect—if she can survive it. She’s tasked with finding out who inside the Russian agency is leaking secrets to the Americans. Thus, she begins a relationship with Nate Nash, a CIA agent and the primary handler of the asset known as Marble.
Nate, of course, is also trying to turn her, and the last half of the book is their give-and-take as Dominika is repelled further by her own country as they continue to kill people close to her and underestimate her.
I won’t spoil the ending, because the finale is actually pretty clever. However, the writing style was so rough that I almost didn’t make it through the first half.
As I said before, this book would definitely be rated R as a movie. So, if you don’t want to read a list of things in an R-rated movie, I’d suggest skipping down to where I compare the book vs. what was shown in the trailer.
Red Sparrow isn’t a nice spy drama flick on TV. This is much closer to show about an assassin. Between Dominika and the rest of the Russians, more throats get slit or garroted, bullets get shot, or necks get broken than I could begin to keep track of. Whole characters are dedicated to the sole purpose of being “cleaners” that take care of problems, and you see things from their point of view occasionally. Because of the harshness of this world, the profanity level is also pretty bad. This isn’t just cursing but also sexual language and crass terminology.
This is largely because the sexual content in this book is very, very explicit. There’s her stumbling across a couple having sex in the saunas, her masturbation, pornography (required study for the Sparrows), a lesbian sex scene between her and a fellow sparrow, and several graphic sex scenes between her and various men (including Nate). In addition to this, there is also a rape scene and a chapter where she is being tortured. The author also had a habit of randomly letting you know that her shirt was open, exposing her to the men around her in the middle of important scenes.
In addition to all of that, I wasn’t impressed with the way the book was written. It was choppy and too focused on making Dominika seem like a strong woman while also slipping in way too much sex and crass stuff for her to be classy as well. I wanted really badly to like the book, but I can’t say I’ll even bother to read the next one because his writing annoyed me.
I’ll be honest, going back and watching the trailer after reading the book made me mad. Sparrow School was all of 11 pages; Dominika intentionally fought being used in that way and was actually a much stronger character than it seems like the girl in the movie will be.
Unless the trailer is incredibly misleading (which, it could be), the movie will be even more smutty than the book was. The trailer is full of sexual innuendo, cutaways, and several scenes in bed. They make her out to be not a KGB operative who was growing in respect but just another Sparrow meant to trap men with her body. They might be setting up for a similar plot and just not wanting to give away the interesting twists or they could be two-dimensionalizing a very complex book.
Even if they don’t, this movie will still be a very hard R-rated film. The Official MPAA Rating is “R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.” There are multiple sex scenes of varying levels of graphicness, bloody torture, intense violence, and strong coarse profanity.
Even if you are like me and enjoy a good spy movie—or if you are a Jennifer Lawrence fan—I would take some serious time to think about whether or not this movie will be good for you to have in your memory.
If you’re on the fence, I would advise waiting to see it until after a parent or trusted figure sees it first and tells you if it would be worth watching or waiting until it is out on DVD where you can turn it off if it is too much. In all honesty, I don’t know that I will see the movie because the book was rough enough, and Hollywood loves a chance to make something even more graphic. That gives me reason to pause.
Brianna is a manager at her favorite childhood bookstore. She is likely to be found curled up with a book and her black cat, Bear, talking to a stranger, dancing outside in a thunderstorm, singing Disney songs while making cookies, or snuggling her best friend's baby while drinking coffee. Her heart is fueled by the desire to help people find their unique wings and use them in whatever capacity God has created them for. She is passionate about seeing and finding Christ in the secular world wherever she can.