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A while back, we had heard that director Francis Lawrence was aiming for a hard R rating for his upcoming thriller Red Sparrow. Well, ask and you shall receive. The spy movie, starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, is getting an R rating, and a hard R at that. The film has earned this distinction for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity. Yup, that will just about do it. There aren't too many boxes that this film isn't checking in the R rating department, and as promised, Francis Lawrence and his team didn't chicken out or get cold feet. They're poised to deliver a brutal, sultry and thrilling spy film.
The R rating was confirmed in the latest trailer for the film that aired during last night's Super Bowl, and fits perfectly with the story this film is selling. An R rating by itself is not indicative of quality, but it does show what kind of story the filmmakers are aiming to tell and what tools they have at their disposal to do so. Some films benefit from being creatively restricted by a PG-13 rating, while others need the room to flourish that an R rating provides. You can get away with plenty of violence in a PG-13 film, but torture and especially sexual content and nudity are safe bets to earn an R rating. In Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence's Dominika Egorova becomes a master of spycraft, and part of that involves seduction and manipulation. This R rating will allow this film to dive deeply into the sexually explicit elements of the story and be the sexy spy movie it can be.
Comparisons have been made between Red Sparrow and the character Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While there are no doubt similarities (both characters are Russian and ballerinas), the R rating is just another indicator of how different Red Sparrow will be from the eventual Black Widow movie. This will not be about gadgets, big action set pieces or connecting to a shared universe; this will be more of a down-and-dirty spy film that doesn't pull punches, as well as shows graphic violence and torture. That is part of what could set Red Sparrow apart from many of the more well-known spy films out there.
In this day and age, spy films often fit the mold of traditional blockbusters, and while that can deliver some truly exciting cinematic experiences, these films skew closer to action movies than thrillers. Mission: Impossible, the James Bond films and even the Bourne franchise feel more like the former rather than the latter. While these movies are all a blast, they have a certain mass-market appeal that precludes the sort of slow burn tension punctuated by moments of intense violence that I am expecting from Red Sparrow. This is not a qualitative judgement of one being better or worse, but it is sometimes fun to see something a little different that makes you squirm in your seat, and hopefully the R-rated Red Sparrow provides that.