Based on former CIA agent Jason Matthews' best seller of the same name, "Red Sparrow", star Jennifer Lawrence tackles the often-difficult role of Dominika Egorova with a vengeance. A powerful supporting cast including Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling and Ciarán Hinds lends a truly international flavor to Justin Haythe's adapted screenplay.
Dominika, once a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi, has been "recruited" for the Sparrow program by Ivan Egorov, her Uncle Vanya (Schoenaerts), a high-ranking Russian spy. The Sparrow School is run by Anna or "Matron" (Rampling), a tough old broad who accepts no excuses and demands perfection from her students.
Before her training is even completed, Dominika is sent to Budapest to curry favor with American CIA agent, Nate Nash (Edgerton) --- and to learn the identity of Nate's Russian mole. Nate had been stationed in Moscow, but bad judgment forced him to flee, which put his valuable asset in mortal danger.
Dominika's roommate in Budapest, Marta (Thekla Reuten), a fellow Sparrow, has made contact with the chief of staff, Stephanie Boucher (Mary Louise Parker), for a U.S. senator, but the two remain wary of each other. As Dominika tries to establish a relationship with Nate, Vanya's superiors, General Korchnoi (Irons) and Col. Zyuganov (Hinds) grow suspicious of her lack of progress. Showcasing multiple twists and turns, "Red Sparrow" keeps the audience on its toes.
Because the Sparrows use sex and cunning to entrap their prey --- agents of foreign governments --- there are no car chases or lengthy
hand-to-hand battles. There is, however, a lot of violence. Dominika is certainly not shy about using brute force --- on anyone. But her main objective in everything she does is protecting and taking care of her sickly mother (Joely Richardson).
Dominika is not a James Bond kind of a spy, nor a Jason Bourne. Her manner is more cerebral --- much more sexual --- and Lawrence excels at playing this role. Her Russian accent passes the muster and her stoicism never betrays her underlying feelings.
She and Edgerton manage a smoldering undercurrent between their characters, which helps maintain the interest. Nate is definitely not the suave, sophisticated agent, but through Edgerton, his principled, trustworthy side is clearly on display. I've not been a big fan of his thus far, but I really like him here.
Though his role is relatively small, Irons does have one particularly inviting scene --- I could watch him forever. He's seated in an overstuffed chair having a drink and smoking a cigar while listening to a symphonic recording. It's exactly how any character Irons plays should be portrayed.
With the #MeToo movement in full swing, it's rather enjoyable watching a beautiful Russian spy --- and Lawrence definitely looks gorgeous, full Monty, et al --- kick the crap out of the men who have caused her extreme aggravation and pain. Some have commented that "Red Sparrow" is too long. I loved it --- for me, it just "flew" by.
Opinion: See It Now!
Fans of the "Hunger Games" franchise will likely flock to see Jennifer Lawrence in her latest film, "Red Sparrow". As Katniss Everdeen, Lawrence thrilled audiences with her daring exploits and female heroics. But Lawrence has now rendered the most challenging role of her career, and her best performance, by far. A warning to Katniss' fans --- "Red Sparrow" is extremely violent, albiet never gratuitous, and places Lawrence's character in some very uncomfortable situations.
As an initially reluctant Russian spy, Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is forced to leave her precious world of the Bolshoi Ballet, and enter the often vicious, and sometimes humiliating, arena of espionage. A flawed Russian accent by Lawrence in this movie could have sabotaged the whole effort, but she masters the dialect suitably, never stumbling, always believable. Like Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman" last year, Lawrence's character is capable of inflicting violence on deserving thugs, just as she must endure unspeakable torture in "Red Sparrow". It should also be noted that Lawrence practiced ballet for three months to ensure authenticity for the opening sequences.
For a movie that runs 139 minutes, it's virtually impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Austrian director Francis Lawrence, who worked with his namesake on the "Hunger Games" films, has given the world a seamless spy movie that is, at times, difficult to watch, but one that literally drips with suspense. For most of "Red Sparrow", I found my fists clenched with anxiety. And there are major surprises, which keeps the audience wondering whom to trust in this story of agents, double agents and double crosses.
Lawrence is joined by a superb cast, led by Joel Edgerton as American CIA operative Nate Nash. Edgerton probably doesn't get his just due from average moviegoers --- "oh yeah, that guy" --- but his body of work in both film and live theater is quite distinguished. I thought his directorial debut in "The Gift" (2015) was superb. In "Red Sparrow", he portrays a valuable U.S. government agent who screws up, but gets a chance at redemption. In the process, Nate and Dominika cross paths, and their odyssey together plays out like an epic adventure.
"Red Sparrow" starts off with a very Hitchcock-like prelude --- "Torn Curtain" comes to mind. Even before the opening title credits, this movie has you glued to the screen. Fortunately, the film sustains its level of intrigue, thanks to the veteran cast, a credible screenplay by Justin Haythe ("Revolutionary Road"), based on the book by former CIA counterterrorist expert Jason Matthews, and an amazing score by James Newton Howard, the best composer to never win an Oscar --- he has been nominated eight times.
Supporting the two leads are the likes of Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling and Mary-Louise Parker. Irons is his usual inimitable self, and Rampling's turn as Matron, the head of the state-run Sparrow School, in which Dominika trains for her spy career, is downright scary. Matthias Schoenaerts is outrageously enigmatic as Dominika's Uncle Vanya. We're never really sure where his allegiances lie. It's an extraordinary performance. And one of the best character actors around, Ciarán Hinds, plays Zyuganov, a Russian colonel.
"Red Sparrow" earns its "R" rating primarily for its extreme violence and its immodest use of nudity. I won't give it away, but the Russian torture master (Sebastian Hülk) is given a most unusual device for extracting information from his victims. Vladimir Putin would be proud.
Opinion: See It Now!