Lawrence excels at spy game
JENNIFER Lawrence treads a fine line between post-femme fatale and sexual plaything in this good-looking spy thriller, which takes full advantage of its distinctive Eastern European backdrop.
Due to her extraordinary acting skills, she never falters.
After her career as a prima ballerina is cut tragically short (by a jealous rival), Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) and her invalid mother (Joely Richardson) face imminent eviction from their, by Western standards, modest Moscow flat.
Egorova’s lecherous uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency, the SVR, comes up with a “rescue” plan.
Involving her in the assassination of a high-profile businessman, he ensures Egorova has no choice but to enter the SVR’s sparrow program, or “whore school”.
Through ritual degradation and humiliation, the students are taught to use their bodies as weapons of the state, to paraphrase Charlotte Rampling’s sociopathic headmistress.
There is nothing titillating about these sex scenes, played by Lawrence with a kind of abject defiance — but they still feel disturbingly voyeuristic.
On her first official mission, Egorova, code name Diva, travels to Budapest to smoke out a high-ranking Russian mole by earning the trust of his handler, Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent Nate Nash.
Egorova’s survival depends on her ability to outmanoeuvre the bureaucratic bullies who have backed her into a corner.
Not even the local bureau chief — a sexual predator with a thin skin for rejection — has her back. Egorova has nothing to rely on apart from her wits.
Having helmed three of the four Hunger Games films, Francis Lawrence (no relation) knows how to direct his lead actor to her (and his) full advantage.
Lawrence embraces the ambiguity of her character — Egorova is, by turns, victim, manipulator, and calculating double agent.
Edgerton plays Nash as an essentially decent man in a morally bankrupt world.
Schoenaerts’ bad guy is very, very good. And Mary Louise Parker make the most of her role as a powerful lush.
Less persuasive is the film’s overarching tone.
While Red Sparrow is plotted like a potboiler, its director is aiming for something loftier, more cerebral. But as a tale of power and corruption, the film lacks the necessary depth.
And by having a bet both ways, the gruelling sex and torture scenes lose tension.
A director such as Paul Verhoeven (Elle) would have been much less coy.
Red Sparrow still has enough plot twists and turns and double backs, however, to keep audiences guessing.
Jennifer Lawrence and (inset, centre) as double agent Diva in Red Sparrow.