Jennifer Lawrence stars as a ballerina turned espionage agent in ‘Red Sparrow’
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.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina drawn into international intrigue in “Red Sparrow.”
MATTHIAS SCHOENARTS plays Dominika’s uncle, Vanya Egorova.
JOEL EDGERTON plays Nate Nash, an American CIA official.