“Widows” full review

Intelligent, emotional, thrilling. Steve McQueen’s Widows is more than a thriller about a heist, it’s a stylish cinematic exercise full of social commentary on racial and social injustice within a city built upon political and business corruption. In a world that is completely exhausted from injustice, McQueen’s masterful direction brings Gillian Flynn’s multi-dimensional screenplay to life. Widows is brilliant in part because the film works on multiple levels simultaneously whilst delivering an edge-of-your-seat drama full of conflict. Not your typical action-packed film, the focus is truly on the central characters and the worlds from which they each come–worlds that collide after a robbery goes terribly wrong. It’s a brutal story with the highest of stakes. Witness a genre that is often not thought of as much more than a good popcorn movie, mature, grow, and exceed what society dictates this genre should be. While the characters themselves break through that glass ceiling, this film parallels the narrative by shattering expectations to create a thought-provoking work of cinema. Whereas a film in this genre seldom tackles such tough topics; and in general, many films that do seek to provoke discussions on race, social injustice, and gender roles come off as preachy, Widows never crosses that line from motion picture to sermon. The visually impactful story hooks you from the opening scene, and delivers command performances that force you to empathize and ask whether or not you would go to such lengths to forge a working relationship with people completely different from you in order save your very lives. What would you do when you are thrust into a situation in which you are way over your head and unprepared? Widows is as entertaining as it is thoughtful.

A heist goes terribly wrong. Very, very wrong. The result leaves four women widows. Four women that have no idea who one another are, or even the extent of their respective husbands dealings within the world of organized crime. These women are left with a debt owed to some powerful people who have a total disregard for human life, and only value money and influence. When Veronica (Viola Davis) is approached by a crooked politician for the $2mil her husband owes, she must devise a plan to deliver the money because her very life is in immediate danger. In order to get the money that she needs, Veronica blindly contacts the other widows in order to pull off the next heist her husband was planning. “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it.” With little time to train, Veronica and her newly forged partners work tirelessly to plan and pull off the heist with a booty of $5mil.

After listening to the recent Mike Mike and Oscar (MMO) review of this movie, I am determined now more than ever to persuade them to my side of the argument that this is a great movie, and one worthy of the critical and general audience acclaim. There are so many layers to this story that it is difficult to know precisely where to begin my analysis. Before tackling the plot itself, the area where MMO and I agree is the cinematography and editing. McQueens stylistic direction is witnessed clearly in the phenomenal movement of the camera and editing. There are times that the camera feels like a character in and of itself. Without giving any spoilers away, there is one particular scene that was so brilliantly blocked and choreographed that I was legitimately wowed by the cinematography. And that is the gripping opening scene. The camera never misses a beat, and the editing is razor sharp. There are moments that the camera moves so exceptionally that I truly feel like a fly on the wall of the getaway van. Beyond the stellar cinematography and editing in the opening scene explosive action, the camera often lingers on reactions or reveals subtext in other scenes. While the characters may be talking about something innocuous or delivering a expositional dump, the camera is focussed on something entirely different.

The story of Widows is less about the heist as it is a character study on three incredibly interesting women who are forced to work together to achieve a common goal. An external goal of the theft of $5mil because of a mess left by their respective late husbands paired with the internal need to survive. And it in these characters and the conflict experienced by each that the film truly shines as taking this action genre to substantive levels. Much like a screenplay itself is build upon the three act structure, and individual scenes also embrace the idea of a “mini 3-act movie” within each act, the film provides three fascinating characters upon which the conflict and drama are build. Whether short or feature, films contain three acts, each with a specific diegetic purpose. Paralleling this concept of 3s is the central ensemble cast of Veronica, Linda, and Alice. Amanda is also left a widow by the police shootout, but does not play as active a role. Veronica is a character who lives on the wealth of her husband, but turns a blind eye to what he does. She is grieved and frightened of how she is going to cope with life, especially after having buried a teenage son. Linda is an entrepreneurial spirit who trusts that her husband is taking care of the logistics of opening a store but does not make sure bills are getting paid. She is unaware of his habitual gambling and penchant for unethical business ventures. Alice is a timid, shy person as a result of being abused as a child and by her husband. She demonstrates an unspoken relief that her abusive husband is gone, but reluctant to become an escort even though her mother trained her that she only has her looks and nothing else. We don’t learn as much about Amanda except the fact she is a new mother and doesn’t want to be involved in anything. All three of these woman are thrust into a situation in which they are over their heads and rise to the occasion to overcome the fear of impending death to take control of fate to forge their own futures. It requires them to drop walls, cooperate, and use each of their talents to combine together to create a formidable team. Alone, each of them did not have what was necessary to pull off the job, but together they become a solid team.

The stark differences between the three women are important because it allows the story to explore the socio-political and inter-personal affects the conflict has upon them. On the surface level, Widows is a heist movie; but ultimately, the heist itself is irrelevant, little more than a glorified plot device. Steve McQueen took a high concept film and made it low concept, gave it substance and meaning. Crafting this meaningful film out of a popcorn concept demonstrates McQueen’s ability to create something that is incredibly entertaining but never sacrifices character, the cinematic experience, or the important themes and subtext found therein. This is very much a #MeToo era film. It provides a platform for strong female characters to turn the tables on their oppressors, those who take advantage of them, and take back their dignity, self-respect, ambition, and independence. Thematically, the film is incredibly rich. Each of the central women are saddled with burdens of various kinds and to varying degrees however, the common denominator is dictation of place in society. This dictation is accomplished differently for each women, but the result is the same. They are all controlled by the men in their personal and vocational lives. Veronica must shed her codependence on her late husband and even her dog (a metaphor for her dependence on the external in order to function) and successfully cope with and overcome grief. Alice must realize that she is intelligent, has intrinsic value, does not need to rely on her body to generate income, and does require a man in order to survive. Linda is challenged with rising above having her passion business ripped out from underneath her because of a mess her husband left, and provide her children with a quality life while never forgetting her own needs and desires. All of these women are the victims of messes created by men, and leaving the women in their lives to clean up.

McQueen’s Widows gives a voice to the oppressed and downtrodden. Although the central characters are our three women, there are other characters in the film representing different kinds of real people out there who are selfishly creating messes and keeping those who aren’t wealthily, white, privileged on the bottom of the ladder and dependent upon the upper class. This is where different depictions of corruption enter the story. We have political corruption, business corruption, and even corrupted leaders of religious congregations. So much to talk about! It’s in these subplots that the film spends time highlighting and commenting on racism and gender roles. McQueen delivers a white ethnocentric political family who stops at nothing to keep minorities out of city government in order to hold all the control in the longstanding dynasties. Gender roles are analyzed by the manner in which the various women are treated by their male counterparts. Although much of these subplots are conveyed through exposition, there are some brilliant shots with the camera. One particularly powerful scene in which Jack Milligan (Colin Farrell) is driving home from his campaign stop in a predominantly black, poverty-stricken neighborhood to his whitewashed wealthy neighborhood. The distance is a matter of a few blocks, but the stark contrast between the neighborhoods is astounding. Whereas the conversation between Mulligan and his assistant could have been a boring expositional dump, it was dramatized by the setting and the reactions of the black chauffeur. This scene calls out the great divide that we see in our country. A few in power keep others oppressed and in their dictated places. Powerful material.

Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is tight, focussed, and deep. It wastes no moment to advance the plot and develop the central characters who all have well-defined external goals supported by well-defined internal needs. The big event of the heist gone wrong has a wide ripple effect that puts the very lives of the innocent in harm’s way, harm they may even mean eventual death. And it’s not a film that paints the “white male” as the only unscrupulous, unethical, power-hungry entity, it also takes the opportunity to show a black male politician who is just as unethical, power-hungry, and unscrupulous, even to committing murders. The lesson here is just how corrupt business and politics is. Even down to strong arming the religious community. Of course, this also shows that the leader of a religious congregation is not immune to picking up a racket and joining the game. Without ever feeling too preachy, Flynn’s screenplay uses visual juxtaposition to truly drive these points home. While the pacing of her screenplay may be slow compared to an action-driven plot, it is perfectly paced for this character-driven story. To be honest, I do not feel that this screenplay is as brilliant as Gone Girl, it’s still a powerful screenplay that balances the action components against the character ones in order to successfully experiment with the heist genre. For all its cleverness and excitement, of the three acts, the first two are definitely the strongest with a weaker third act closing out the film. Will the third act be what keeps this film from receiving a best adapted screenplay nomination? We will just have to wait and see.

There is so much to like about McQueen’s Widows! Make sure to go in with the right expectations though. If you go into the film seeking the next great heist movie, then you my be disappointed (as was the case with Movie Drone Podcast). Mike Mike and Oscar certainly stick by their impression that it’s just an okay movie all the way around and not the Oscar contender than many Tweeps and Podcasters are saying. After watching it for myself, listening and reading to reviews on both ends of the spectrum, I still feel strongly that this movie is fantastic! It’s a timely movie that gives voices and platforms to those who are often sidelined. From writing to directing and performances, you are in for a thrilling time with Widows.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Bohemian Rhapsody” full film review

Ready Freddie? Adapted from the Queen Wikipedia article, comes the anticipated tribute film Bohemian Rhapsody. Mostly directed by Bryan Singer, but after his unexpected departure, directed by Dexter Fletcher, this could be one of the first films to almost not be a film at all, yet produce an Oscar-worthy performance in Malek’s Freddie. It’s a good thing that your favorite Queen songs are sort of in the movie because the screenplay is off key. In short, the problem with this biographical film can be traced back to the weak writing and misguided direction. Anytime a film has to change directors in the middle of production (for whatever the reason), the film has a high chance of suffering in the transfer of power. There are exceptions; for instance, Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper and Spielberg, and became one of the best horror films of all time. On the topic of writing, paraphrasing Hitchcock, a writer (or director) should start the scene as close to the end of the scene as possible in order to streamline the plot and keep the focus on conflict moving the scene forward. Unfortunately, this movie starts each scene as close to the beginning of the scene as possible and cuts it off just before the ending. Whereas the camera lingered in A Star is Born in order to allow the emotion of the scene to sink in, this camera lacks focus and moves around the scene in a way to document what is doing on, not show us the story and subtext. Speaking of subtext, Bohemian Rhapsody is very much a textbook example of “on the nose” storytelling. There is a great lack of subtext anywhere in the film.

A celebration of the timeless music of Queen, this film chronicles the band’s beginnings to the famous Live Aid concert. Following the band from playing in bars to headlining sellout concerts at world-famous venues, this film takes you behind the scenes to watch the development of the band and–also–spending some time with Freddie’s personal life. Witness Freddie Mercury defy what his family wanted for him and what popular culture defined as a lead singer, and become the icon that he is.

Although the film is lacking in almost every area of storytelling, there is one standout element that cannot be ignored, despite the poor writing and direction. And that is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Now, I am not a huge Queen fan; yes, I know the same handful of Queen songs that most people know and really enjoy listening and rocking out to them. But, I do not know enough about Freddie in order to know how close Malek’s performance was to capturing the real man. Mainly because I was a really young when he passed away. However, even not knowing much about the real Freddie, I can still assess a great performance, and Malek’s impressed me from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him! The commitment to his character is incredible. Not only does he resemble Freddie, but at no point did I ever feel that I was watching an actor play Freddie, but it was like watching Freddie himself (what I know about Freddie, anyway). It will be interesting to watch to see whether or not he gets an Actor in a Leading Role nomination even though the rest of the film will not likely show up on the Academy’s radar. Perhaps the film would have been better if it had been a Freddie Mercury biopic instead of covering the band as a whole. But due to Queen having so much control over the story, the focus consistently shifts from Freddie to the band so that there is no true direction for the conflict to go in order to deliver a powerhouse of a film.

The storytelling is so incredibly disconnected that there are moments that do not feel like a movie at all. Other than the recreation of the Live Aid performance (with a crowds of bad CGI and real shots of the same group of spectators over and over), the best scenes in the film are during the intimate moments between Freddie and Mary. These are the only times that I feel that the film is diving deep, and attempting to evoke emotional responses from the audience. Even during some of the moments that should have been the most gut-wrenching and impactful such as Freddie’s coming out or when he finds out that he has AIDS, just play off as surface-level; they fall flat. Never once does this film dive deep into anything. As soon as the story is about to hit a home-run, it bunts the ball. Fasts-forward to first base, if you will. I am also shocked at the lack of music in this movie. With the title being Bohemian Rhapsody and being about Queen, I half expected that moments would feel like a rock concert. By no means, did I want to watch a 2hr music video or vicariously attend a concert, but I had hoped that the music would have been a bigger part of the story. And the title song is not a significant part of the movie. Honestly, a more precise title would have sinply been QueenBohemian Rhapsody is never completely performed in its entirety.

If you don’t like to read Wikipedia articles, but want to learn the same information, then checkout Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend. Or if you are a fan of the entire band–not just Freddie–then this movie is for you. Although you get very few songs performed in their entirety, you will hear Under Pressure, We Will Rock YouWe Are the Champions, and others.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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The Predator (2018) Review

A solid reboot/sequel for the Predator franchise! Don’t pay attention to the plethora of reviews from critics who are hating on Shane Black’s The Predator. With an entertaining action-horror plot, fantastic cast, and excellent pacing, this is the Predator that we wanted and got! And I am not alone in this, several podcasts and even the Roger Ebert site agree on Black’s Predator. The tone of the movie feels like a throwback to the original, while acknowledging the other movies to maintain just enough continuity where you don’t question where this film falls of what has happened prior. I went into this movie with moderately low expectations because of what I read in the initial reviews, but I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. And not only me, all of my friends who were with me between Rounds 1 and 2 of Halloween Horror Nights opening weekend. You get it all, grizzly action, humor, and entertaining kills. Unlike past movies that tried to “improve” on their 80s predecessors, this quintessential action-horror takes us back to what made the 80s horror endure the test of time. Instead of building the movie around the title character, it builds it around the lead human cast. And a memorable cast of characters, at that. Where some reviewers have found irreverence or offensiveness in the fact that many of the characters demonstrate cognitive and emotional disabilities, this is actually what works well for the film. Furthermore, it highlights how emotional, physiological, or cognitive disabilities do not determine someone’s degree of courage, determination, empathy, or sense of humor. Each of the lead and supporting characters in the ensemble cast overcome any obstacles that stand in their way, whether the obstacle comes from within or from the outside. It is a fun, exhilarating horror movie that will keep you entertained!

“From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. The universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species” (IMDb). When US Ranger McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) discovers a crashed space ship and loses his crew to a mysterious alien with futuristic weaponry, he salvages what he can find from the wreckage and mails–in Dr. Henry Jones fashion–it in order for it to not be confiscated by the US government. Unbeknownst to McKenna, the US government is aware of these Predators, and has one sedated for testing in a secret facility. When the US government gaslights McKenna and believes him to be maliciously upholding an investigation, he is thrown onto a bus of other veterans, whom the government does not want to deal with, to be taken to a mental hospital. When the Predator escapes the facility, McKenna teams up with his fellow soldiers on the bus to take down the alien killer before more harm can be done. Meanwhile, the situation is complicated when a boy accidentally triggers the return to Earth of an even bigger Predator, and only McKennas’ ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and an evolutionary biologist can prevent the end of the human race.

Since there isn’t much to analyze here, I am going to keep this one short. What I find most interesting about The Predator, is what it was NOT more so than what it was. It wasn’t another reboot of a past franchise that overly injects vapid dialogue and self-aware humor or a complex plot. The Predator heeds the maxim “simple plot, complex characters.” Moreover, it also wasn’t a parody or satirical piece that was making fun of the genre or source material as if it was no longer relevant to audiences. It would have been far too easy for Black to have made a mockery of this franchise or wrote-directed something that was just complete schlock; but he did what many thought was impossible with this horror creature feature. He revived what we loved about the original, made a few tweaks, and gave us a strong reboot/sequel that was incredibly entertaining to watch.

After watching the movie, I am left with the conclusion that Black was able to recapture what made the first one work so well and actually repeat it, with some exchanges of grizzly violence for humor. But why does this movie work so well? Black started with characters, then derived a plot from those characters with incredible precision and strategic pacing. The tone and rhythm of this movie are remarkable. Yes, remarkable. Black was able to achieve what fans of great action movies love and take for granted, but is highly difficult to pull off effectively. The placement of dramatic beats. The reason the plot of this movie works so well is because Black knew where to place the emotional and action beats, and how to build up to them, and drive them home. He connects to these beats through character-driven development through which plot is derived.

For fans of the franchise, this truly IS the Predator movie that you were hoping for. Even those who are new to the franchise will enjoy the movie because it works as both an homage to and a pioneer in rediscovering the attraction of this iconic creature feature.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Deadpool 2” movie review

“Deadpool, can you hear me?” Subversive, irreverent, brilliant, meta. It very well may be better than the first. How often do we get to say that about direct sequels? Ryan Reynolds’ witty, crass, charmingly naughty superhero is back to take even the most unrelentingly serious movie patron, and drive them to complete laughter. The square peg of the X-Men’s round universe returns with non-stop action, antics, and fourth-wall breaking humor virtually deconstructing everything from the opening credits to the post-credit scenes. Nothing new there; however, Deadpool assures the audience that the story they are about to see is a family movie. And after watching it, it may be unconventional, but it’s a solid family film. Maybe not “family entertainment,” by the Disney definition, but about family nevertheless. Speaking of which, we may have just watched the final Deadpool as we know it before it gets the Big D sanitization treatment, should Comcast (NBC Universal) not swoop in to save 20th Century from the otherwise inevitable Disney acquisition. Deadpool 2 isn’t just better than the first one simply because it’s funnier, more risqué, or more clever; in measurable ways, it possesses stronger villain(s), stronger opposition to the goal, and a better plot overall. Not your everyday “family” film, but filled with emotional tugs at your heart strings, all the same. Just with a heaping helping of self-aware and self-deprecating bawdy humor.

For two years, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has continued his mercenary work, taking down villain after villain, crook after crook; but, after he fails to kill one of his targets on an extra-special day to him, he is faced with tragedy. Through a series of bizarre events–yes, even bizarre for Wilson–Wilson finds himself in a maximum-security prison ran by the DMC (Dept of Mutant Control) along with a renegade 14yo mutant named Russell. When Cable (Josh Brolin), a high-tech assassin, arrives from the future to take out a target that he claims leads to total destruction, Wilson must battle inner and outer demons in order to get his heart into the right place. Knowing he’s facing the most dangerous villain he’s ever encountered, Wilson forms the X-Force, a diverse “superhero” group of many talents in order to apprehend the target to prevent the world from plunging into complete chaos.

There is a comedic power in the plot of Deadpool 2 that invites the audience, at every turn, to laugh with the movie as it laughs at itself. There are a few running schticks throughout the film, but my favorite is the continued references to Barbra Streisand’s groundbreaking film Yentl featuring the iconic Streisand ballad Papa, Can You Hear Me? To which, Deadpool points out sounds an awful lot like Do You Wanna Build a Snowman from Disney’s Frozen. And it’s the implication of Disney appropriating Streisand’s song where the “Disney joke” was likely cut from the movie. Other jokes carry over from the first film such as the X-Men mansion with only Negasonic Teenage Warlord and Colossus roaming around. Some of the schticks from the first movie are transformed for this direct sequel. Contrary to the Wade Wilson from the first film, this one, this one diverts from his persistent aversion to companionship and a desire to be the “lone ranger,” as it were, and expresses a need for family. This desire for family serves as the backdrop of running jokes, gags, and extreme snark.

Streisand isn’t the only female vocal artist highlighted in the film, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, Pat Benatar’s We Belong, and Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time are all featured, all that we were missing was Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. Unlike the completely unconventional opening credit sequence from the first Deadpool, this sequel’s opening credit sequence takes a page out of the James Bond handbook, complete with the new single Ashes by Celina Dion. Like the opening credit sequence from the first film, this one also replaces the names with jokes that certainly aid in setting the irreverent mood of the film. Although a film should never primarily rest upon the music, as the plot should stand on its own, the score and featured songs are incredibly important assets that can greatly enhance the experience. Deadpool 2 contains a few montages set to song that will certainly have you rolling over laughing. Sometimes it’s the complete contrast or juxtaposition that the lyrics provide against the action in the foreground that drive the audience to complete hysterical laughter.

For all the first film got right, one of the elements missing from it was a well-developed, dynamic villain (more specifically, opposition to the external goal). Deadpool 2 provides solid central opposition to the external goal (which, for spoiler sake, I won’t mention) flanked by two villains taken directly out of the X-Men comics (and X-Men: the Animated Series). Cable, mentioned earlier, and the Juggernaut. Not to pigeonhole Cable into the villain category, there is more to this villain than first meets the eye. He can be more accurately described as an anti-hero because of his reasons for returning to the past to stop Armageddon, so to speak. Knowing Cable’s backstory, his goals, and that which he sees as opposition to his goals, gives him a character depth seldom seen in many superhero villains. When a villain (or anti-hero) can get the audience to empathize with his or her plight, then the villain succeeds in being well-developed and complicated. Having a complicated villain enables the audience to love or love to hate the villain. But in both cases, the audience loves to see the villain (or anti-hero) on screen. Supplementing the cast of villains in Deadpool 2, is the iconic X-Men character Juggernaut. His introduction into the film comes at a strategic turning point that launches the plot into the showdown.

The film makes an important observation about the lack of plus-sized lead characters in superhero movies. Russell is a plus-sized mutant who wants so desperately to be a superhero, but sends the message to Wilson (and by extension, the audience) that there should be room for non-athletic types in the superhero universe. It’s an important message that I think would have played out more effectively had the actor not been so childish. I understand that the character is a 14yo mutant who is still struggling to find his place in this world and understand his powers, but I kept seeing the actor and not the character. The ability to bring a character to life without the actor showing is part of the art of acting. In most cases, the audience wants to see the character, not the actor playing him or her. I liked the character of Russell, just think he could have been portrayed by another actor who could have more effectively driven the message home that diversity in the superhero universe mans more than male, female, straight, gay, etc. It should also incorporate a diversity of body types. Having non-athletic body types represented in lead characters–superheroes specifically–is an element that I hope continues to improve.

There truly is so much to enjoy about Deadpool 2. Behind the ballsy jokes, suggestive poses, and hilarious meta observations, is solid writing and direction. With the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox all but complete, with the wild card of Comcast’s (NBC Universal) bidding 19% more than Disney in cash that could alter the direction of the deal, I hope that we did not witness the last Deadpool free of Disney sanitization. Knowing that they strong-armed Fox into cutting a Disney joke from the film during post-production, does not help matters any. Hopefully, the third installment of Deadpool will be just as funny, if not funnier than the first two. Oh yeah, it should go without saying but this NOT a superhero movie for kids.

“Red Sparrow” film review

Intense. Riveting. Spine-tingling, A masterful spy thriller crafted in a classical fashion with sex appeal. Red Sparrow will harness your full attention from the opening. Directed by Francis Lawrence, this spy movie is the level of excitement that 2015’s Bridge of Spies wished it was. Whereas many espionage movies fail to develop a plot that keeps you guessing from beginning to end–allowing you to feel like a covert operative or detective–this film delivers a mesmerizing story filled with intriguing characters and close calls. In many ways, this film contains elements that could be likened to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller with influences from Billy Wilder and David Fincher. Jennifer Lawrence displays an uncanny performance that truly shows the versatility of the Oscar-winning actress. With tensions rising between the US and Russia in real life, this films comes at a perfect time because we may find ourselves in a cold war that’s reminiscent of the latter part of the 20th century. Not for those who are weak in the stomach, this film contains cringy visceral horror that will get under your skin. Without the need to rely on science-fiction gadgetry to carry the story, this film provides well-developed characters and an intriguing plot that’s filled with twists and turns.

Prima Bolshoi Ballet ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is faced with a bleak and uncertain future following a severe career-ending injury while on stage performing. Her high-ranking uncle persuades her to attend Sparrow School: an institution that trains seductive spies in order to pry information from targets by using extreme sensuality. Sparrows turn their minds and bodies into weapons for the state. Being determined to remain special, Dominika completes the sadistic training more quickly than the other students and is recruited for a covert assignment to track and report on an American CIA operative (Joel Edgerton) who Russia feels will lead them to the mole within their own ranks.

The beautiful opening of Red Sparrow is abruptly ended when Dominika suffers a horrific injury that instantly ends her ballet career. This acutely intense moment will cut you directly to the bone–you will undoubtedly wince or cringe, feel the break in your own legs. This is but a taste of what is to come throughout the movie. In an exquisite fashion, the gorgeous dance at the opening is juxtaposed against the alleged drug deal gone bad. Paralleling one another, the event that unfolds concurrently enable the plot to get a quickly paced fantastic start out the gate. Unfortunately, this excellent start does lead into a slower paced latter half of Act I. However, there is important background information that is revealed during Act I that foreshadows and sets up the remainder of the turning points in the plot. You will also notice the use of the color red in many places during the movie. Analyzing the shades of, and placement of the crimson hue has the potential to generate conversations between cinephiles.

The color red is not the only symbol in the movie that can be analyzed; there is a theme of your body belonging to the state. Essentially, this can be read as a commentary on celebrity. As a prima ballerina, Dominika’s body was weaponized for the stage and figuratively belonged to the Bolshoi and by extension to the public. Much in the same way her Sparrow weaponized body literally belongs to The State. It’s her body, but the Bolshoi and The State determine her career. But she is determined to not allow herself to become a commodity that can be abandoned, traded, or punished. This can be said about conventional celebrities and the public. In a manner of speaking, the public decides whether or not you are worth seeing on screen and how you should behave. Back during the days of the Studio System, this was a big problem because the Studio controlled your image, who you dated, slept with, when/if you had kids, your marriage, and more. There was mass exploitation in that system, and one of the reasons why it was ended. The empowering message of rebelling against The State, who is determined to own you and your body, can be witnessed through the covert actions of Dominika.

In the grand Hitchcockian fashion, there is a lot of suspense that increases tension but does not always provide a release. Though Hitch would have handled the level and pacing of the suspense more perfectly, you can read his famous bomb theory in Red Sparrow. Hitchcock knew how to take a two-dimensional situation and find a third-dimensional approach to impress the audiences and hold firm their attention. And to the film’s credit, there are a few times that the level of suspense coupled with the symphonic score channels Hitch. Unlike many spy movies that rely too heavily on a love story, the film brilliantly leaves you wondering whether or not Lawrence and Edgerton are in love or rather it is a facade employed in order to extract vital information for their respective allegiances. The level of romance and eroticism is just enough to add the sex-appeal to the relationship without the movie becoming about the romance between two individuals who serve two opposing countries.

Not for the faint of heart, there are some incredibly intense moments in the film that might make you queasy in the stomach. But the movie chooses to place more emphasis on the action, plot, and characters more so than that which threatens your eye. It’s certainly a new breed of spy movie, but it’s one that is incredibly interesting and will hold your attention for the more than 2hr runtime.