Weaponized se­duc­tion

Jen­nifer Lawrence stars as a bal­le­rina turned es­pi­onage agent in ‘Red Spar­row’

Tempo - - CINEMA FILE - Re­view by Rick Romancito

Direc­tor Fran­cis Lawrence — who helmed three “Hunger Games” movies, the cultish “Con­stan­tine,” the in­ad­ver­tently silly “I Am Leg­end,” plus a slew of mu­sic videos for the likes of Bey­oncé, Lady Gaga, Jen­nifer Lopez and Brit­ney Spears — puts his flair for eye­ball­grab­bing im­agery to ad­van­tage in this John LeCarré-meets-Al­fred Hitch­cock es­pi­onage thriller seasoned with rough vi­o­lence and sex­ual in­trigue.

The story con­cerns a beau­ti­ful Rus­sian bal­let dancer, whose glow­ing tal­ent helps pay for her ail­ing mother’s (Joely Richard­son) health­care. The care­fully cul­ti­vated world of Do­minika Egorova (Jen­nifer Lawrence) comes crash­ing down when an accident on-stage ends her ca­reer and throws her and her mother’s fu­ture into limbo, that is, un­til she is con­tacted by her un­cle Vanya Egorova (Matthias Schoe­naerts), who is a Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial. Suf­fice it to say, Do­minika winds up re­cruited to be­come a Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agent in a mis­sion to at­tract the at­ten­tions of an Amer­i­can CIA op­er­a­tive, Nate Nash

(Joel Edger­ton), and to dis­cover the iden­tity of a mole that has been pro­vid­ing Rus­sian se­crets to the Amer­i­cans. How she gets there is a long, wind­ing and dan­ger­ous path that in­volves her be­ing trained at a special fa­cil­ity af­ter which she will be known as a “spar­row.”

Direc­tor Lawrence, work­ing from a script by Justin Haythe that is based on a 2013 novel by re­tired CIA op­er­a­tive Ja­son Matthews, pep­pers his film with fairly con­spic­u­ous com­men­taries on U.S. and Rus­sian re­la­tions, both un­der­cover and un­der-the-cov­ers. A ma­tron (Char­lotte Ram­pling), for in­stance, com­ments on the dif­fer­ences be­tween east and west by say­ing the U.S. was once strong but has be­come weak be­cause of dis­trac­tions, such as so­cial me­dia. She says, “The Cold War did not end. It merely shat­tered into a thou­sand pieces.”

The “spar­rows” are highly trained agents adept at us­ing de­cep­tion and se­duc­tion to gain the deep­est con­fi­dence of their tar­gets. They are schooled to turn on “love” at will. Although Do­minika has prob­lems with some as­pects of her “train­ing,” she man­ages to be con­sid­ered a highly skilled agent and is as­signed to Nash, who is in charge of main­tain­ing se­cret as­sets in Rus­sia.

If any­one would know the iden­tity of the mole, it would be Nash. Now, it’s up to Do­minika to get him to let down his guard and re­veal his name. It must be noted that Do­minika is be­ing han­dled mostly out-of-sight by her un­cle Vanya and he, in turn, is be­ing di­rected by Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers whose ruth­less de­mand for al­le­giance in­cludes tor­ture and mur­der. But then, if you’re a fan of this genre, that’s what you’d ex­pect. As the lead, Jen­nifer Lawrence is cred­i­ble and ex­tremely pro­fi­cient at por­tray­ing a woman whose ex­ter­nal ex­pres­sions of cal­cu­lated in­ter­est are fas­ci­nat­ing to watch through­out, es­pe­cially since we know she is also mask­ing mo­tives so ul­te­rior we won­der at times if her char­ac­ter has be­come se­duced by the needs of her mis­sion. But, there’s much more, and it will pay the viewer to watch care­fully. Direc­tor Lawrence wants this es­pi­onage thriller to be darker and grit­tier than a glossy 007 flick, and although there are glam­orous flour­ishes, he puts his star through paces one might not sus­pect are all that nec­es­sary.

“Red Spar­row” may not spark deep dis­cus­sions about the modern Cold War or whether Jen­nifer Lawrence was hes­i­tant about ap­pear­ing nude af­ter hav­ing been sub­jected to the real-life em­bar­rass­ment of hacked pho­tos ap­pear­ing on­line. If any­thing, it’s a long jour­ney into a slightly bet­terthan-de­cent, pulp-fic­tionesque spy thriller that will do un­til world events pro­vide their own re­al­ity show fod­der.

“Red Spar­row” is rated R for strong vi­o­lence, tor­ture, sex­ual con­tent, lan­guage and some graphic nu­dity. It is show­ing daily at Mitchell Sto­ry­teller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, call (575) 751-4245 or visit sto­ry­teller7.com.

20TH CEN­TURY FOX

JEN­NIFER LAWRENCE plays Do­minika Egorova, a bal­le­rina drawn into in­ter­na­tional in­trigue in “Red Spar­row.”

20TH CEN­TURY FOX

MATTHIAS SCHOENARTS plays Do­minika’s un­cle, Vanya Egorova.

20TH CEN­TURY FOX

JOEL EDGER­TON plays Nate Nash, an Amer­i­can CIA of­fi­cial.

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