(On Cable TV, November 2018) I’m not that impressed with Red Sparrow, but it did make me realize that I miss those espionage thrillers that used to be far more prevalent. If recent geopolitical events have taught us something, it’s a fresh reminder that spying is still a thriving business, even between the USA and Russia—and I miss the tone, the excitement, the style of those movies. Red Sparrow is a watered-down substitute for what I’m looking for, although it does have its good moments. Much of the central conceit of the film feels out-of-place in a mainstream Hollywood movie: the idea of agents trained to do anything (well past the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” definition of anything) to get targets to talk. In order to make this premise credible, the film relies on Jennifer Lawrence’s sex appeal which is a … specific choice. (Tastes vary, and so Russia if you’re listening please don’t bother with a Jennifer Lawrence lookalike in my case. OK, thanks.) Poor Lawrence gets mistreated in all kinds of ways here, as the universe of the film demands us to believe in Machiavellian Russian operatives willing to do anything to bring western civilization down, and that includes roughing up poor Jennifer – this is not a film made for titillation. Not that Red Sparrow is a bore—as the machinations of all characters develop and crash into each other, we get down to a cold icy runaway prisoner exchange scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cold-War-era spy thriller, and that’s what I wanted out of Red Sparrow more than the sexual torture, extended chemistry-free romance between Lawrence and Joel Edgerton, or training minutiae that could have been handled in flashback. I could have used less violence and meanness in the overall result, as a similar and just as interesting espionage thriller could have been possible without the gratuitous exploitation. Alas, you get the films you get, not those you wished for. Frankly, I’d rather watch Atomic Blonde again.