Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Joely Richardson
Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) reunites with her “Hunger Games” director Francis Lawrence in “Red Sparrow”. My expectations for this film were low due the March release date, and the Hollywood star’s last project was nominated for a Razzie. It begins with one heck of an opening sequence, the first indication this film is not your run of the mill espionage flick. Justin Haythe’s script, based on former CIA agent Jason Matthews book, is an explosive, violent and sensual spy thriller. “Red Sparrow” works for a couple of reasons: it never gives the audience what they might expect which in turn keeps us guessing every step of the way. Lawrence easily gives one of her most demanding performances, both physical and mental. It’s rare to see a high profile “movie star,” like Lawrence, take on such a salacious character at this point in her career.
Once the most adored ballerina in Moscow, a career-ending injury forces Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) to take a job offer from her Uncle Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy-head of Russian Intelligence. She trains to become a sparrow, learning to use men’s desires to fulfill whatever espionage mission she is assigned. Dominika’s training under Matron (Charlotte Rampling), the headmistress of sparrow school, proves wildly unpredictable, but she is quickly placed in the field assigned to get close to CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton). Dominika’s only real allegiance is to her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) and she will do anything to keep her safe.
What makes this espionage spy thriller better than others is the creativity and intelligence behind the story and the script.
The violence is what initially impressed me about this film. Not the amount or nature of the violence, but the way it’s used unconventionally and unexpectedly. “Red Sparrow” has a handful of scenes that could compete with a horror film, both in their grotesque nature and in how it frames our leading sparrow. The Russian training program, Dominika refers to as “whore school,” is where the trainees are taught to manipulate targets through sex. Lawrence’s character masters this technique in a defining scene that displays her unmatched dedication to this role, which I think might be her most vulnerable and demanding yet. If “Red Sparrow” were debuting during the Fall season, we would likely be talking best actress consideration. There is a darkness and a detached presence to Dominika that goes far beyond Katniss Everdeen.
Despite Edgerton (“Black Mass”) being slightly mis-cast here, “Red Sparrow’s” supporting slate of characters are well defined. Playing against type, Matthias Schoenaerts (“The Danish Girl”) role is especially scene stealing. Charlotte Rampling’s character isn’t too far from her role in “Never Let Me Go”, but still effective. She and Lawrence have some of the film’s best moments. What makes this espionage spy thriller better than others is the creativity and intelligence behind the story and the script. Each scene creates an entirely new pocket of suspense that, when combined with the film’s unpredictable violent streak, holds the viewer’s undivided attention for the film’s entire 2 hours and 20 minutes. “Red Sparrow” has everything “Atomic Blonde“ lacked in an inventive spy film. It’s more intricate than the last forgettable Bourne flick, and might even redeem Lawrence for mother!
Red Sparrow is the provocatively violent spy thriller we never knew we were missing.