Lawrence deploys her feminine wiles in Red Sparrow.
Back in the director’s chair after a three-year hiatus, Francis Lawrence elected to reunite with the star of his Hunger Games projects, Jennifer Lawrence, for Red Sparrow, a Russian espionage film based on the book of the same name. Backed by a strong cast that includes Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons among others, Red Sparrow looks to take the spy genre in a different direction.
Renowned Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is performing a show when her partner accidentally breaks a bone in her leg, ending her career. With the ballet company set to cut her loose and no obvious means to support her ailing mother, Dominika is approached by her Uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works for Russian intelligence.
He asks Dominika to seduce a corrupt politician to spy on him, but when she does, the target is killed instead. As a witness to the murder, she’s given two choices: become a Russian operative and they’ll look after her mother or be executed. She chooses to join and is sent off to a school where she’s trained to be a provocateur until being selected for a mission to learn the name of a mole being protected by CIA Agent Nate Nash (Edgerton), who has surfaced in Budapest.
It’s here that the real games begin as she must learn the secret Nash possesses, even as Nash knows who she is and who she really works for. Dominika has to deal with other issues as well, including a side operation being run by the agent she shares an apartment with, and it’s unclear what the true purpose is for all of her maneuverings.
As a spy movie, Red Sparrow feels different than most others. It has some of the same grittiness we enjoyed in Atomic Blonde, but Dominika isn’t an assassin or a fighting expert. Her talents lay in her ability to read targets, anticipate what they want and use it to get what she needs from them. Female 007 she isn’t.
Speaking of gritty, there are no punches pulled here. The violence is intense and realistic with choreographed fight scenes replaced by blood-soaked desperation. There’s sexual assault and multiple scenes of gruesome torture in which the perpetrators of these acts don’t bat an eye. Some will doubtless be turned off by the realism, but it drew us deeper into the film’s world.
It’s yet another interesting performance for Lawrence, who has tremendous talent and has shown a willingness to try different roles in between her blockbuster appearances in series like Hunger Games and X-Men. Her character is the victim of a lot of terrible things in Red Sparrow, and Lawrence’s ability to convey both strength and vulnerability helps make the movie.
Although we appreciated the darker tone of the film’s violence, there is a lot of it, to the point where some of the scenes could’ve been removed or cut short as a sort of numbness sets in after a certain point. Let’s put it this way, Lawrence’s character is raped in a hotel room and then later assaulted in the shower, and those aren’t even the nude scenes.
Red Sparrow is more than two hours, and the story is often told in a very deliberate fashion. We’re all for taking the time to build characters and drama, but there are definitely moments when the film drags a bit.
There’s more than an hour of extras surrounding the making of the film, mostly consisting of standard stuff like book-to-screen adaption, casting and location scouting. The ballet and stunts feature is interesting, due in no small part to the fact that it focuses on shooting a chase scene they cut out of the film.
To that end, 10 deleted scenes are included. There’s nothing great in there, but the extended escape from Russia has some cool visuals.
While there are some lulls in Red Sparrow, its fresh approach to the clandestine arts and strong performances from the cast, particularly Lawrence, make it well worth your time.