I’ve heard buzz about Red Sparrow for a while now. Having viewed the trailers, it seemed like it would be an intriguing spy film. I’ve loved the genre since “Get Smart” and “The Saint”. I especially loved the concept of the Russian female spy, reminiscent of characters in the James Bond movies as well as Black Widow from Marvel. This film fulfilled every one of my hopes. It was immersive, compelling and Jennifer Lawrence was charismatic.
In this spy story based on the novel by Jason Matthews, Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a young woman whose career as a ballerina comes to an abrupt halt when she suffers an injury that leaves her unable to dance. With her mother ill and with expensive medical bills, her future seems bleak. Her uncle, Vanya Egorova (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her an opportunity, to go to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons.
Once Dominika goes through her training, she is sent on a mission to target a CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Using her new skills, she must get close to Nate and uncover who his asset within the Russian government is all while Nate tries to convince her that she can trust him. As the two vie back and forth, with her uncle, General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons), and Director Zakharov (Ciarán Hinds) intriguing behind the scenes, the question becomes whether Dominika will fulfill her mission or turn double agent for the Americans.
The film is very engaging and mesmerizing. While the story isn’t completely original, (it has vibe similar to La Femme Nikita), it is executed brilliantly both by the director as well as the actors. My husband and I both spent most of the film trying to predict Domenika’s next move and failing to figure out every move. We did guess a few plot points but ultimately, we were kept guessing until the final moments of the film. The suspense kept us deeply absorbed and the machinations of those in power made the story gritty and complex. While there are some brutal and violent scenes, they are all to advance the story or Domenika’s character. Every skillful maneuver and betrayal keeps you on the edge of your seat and highlights the intrigue.
Most of the film is set in Russia or the eastern nations and that environment is set up well, both the scenes of those in power as well as Domenika’s home with her mother. The world is believable. The set of Domenika in costume and dancing are beautifully counter balanced against her simple life with her mother. That simple life is also contrasted with the wealth of her uncle and the others in power. We don’t see as much of the CIA or the Americans but the bits we do get are enough to help the viewer see what kind of world it is and how the Americans factor in Domenika’s fate.
This movie would be nothing without Jennifer Lawrence. She is incredible in this film, completely submerged within her character. Her dialect is perfect, she never once breaks from the accent. There are moments when she plays her part as cold blooded and calculating, making you never sure how her character is going to act. She has power and presence that creates a believable and strong performance.
The others playing Russian roles do so with brilliance. Matthias Schoenaerts is skillful in his role as her uncle and the emotion that Joely Richardson imbues in her role as Domenika’s mother just enhances the pain of Domenika’s choices. Charlotte Rampling as Matron of the Sparrow School is cold and unfeeling, absolutely what is needed in her portrayal. Jeremy Irons as General Korchnoi helps build the level of intrigue while Ciarán Hinds diabolical as Director Zakharov.
Lest we forget anyone, I liked Joel Edgerton as Nate Nash. He was warm and empathetic in his part, a great counterpoint to Domenika. The two actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Edgerton have a credible chemistry, enough to find the interactions believable. Mary-Louise Parker as Stephanie Boucher had an amazing performance despite the short time we see her in the film. While we don’t get to see much of the other Americans, I especially liked Sakina Jaffrey as Nash’s boss. She played her role as tough and smart. But for both sides, Russians and Americans, the acting is stellar.
If there is anything that can be a possible negative, it is that the story starts out slowly. The pacing throughout the movie is slow as Domenika’s tale is told. While most of this is important, set up for the intrigue in the film, it did make for a longer film and I think the film could have used some small editing for length. While the dialogue and action did keep me engaged in the film, it is difficult to sit through some of the longer scenes. Despite that, perhaps because of the back and forth between Domenika and the other characters, I found myself loving this movie.
If you’re a fan of spy movies and want something with a La Femme Nikita feel, this movie might satisfy your craving. Jennifer Lawrence immerses herself in her character and her acting is unbelievably good. Joel Edgerton has a great dynamic with her while the other actors bring their best to their roles. I loved the focus on the female lead rather than the male and the intrigue kept me guessing until the end.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Dominika Egorova is many things.
A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs.
A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit.
A master of seductive and manipulative combat.
When she suffers a career-ending injury, Dominika and her mother are facing a bleak and uncertain future. That is why she finds herself manipulated into becoming the newest recruit for Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people like her to use their bodies and minds as weapons. After enduring the perverse and sadistic training process, she emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced. Dominika must now reconcile the person she was with the power she now commands, with her own life and everyone she cares about at risk, including an American CIA agent who tries to convince her he is the only person she can trust.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay by: Justin Haythe
Based upon the book by Jason Matthews