Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jo Willems
WRITER: Justin Haythe
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
As a fan of spy thrillers, I can definitely say that “Red Sparrow” is a good movie. However, it is slow to start and there were a couple of times where I thought the film might lose me. Until the third act, it is hard to see all the puzzle pieces and it is even harder to see how they will all fit together.
The movie tells the story of Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a Russian ballerina who suffers a career ending injury to her leg. She is desperate to take care of her ailing mother, so she takes a job from her uncle Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts). She is to seduce an enemy of the state, but the man is question is assassinated and Dominika is a witness.
Dominika has two options at this point. She can either be killed or she can become a Sparrow, a highly-trained operative that seduces her targets in order to obtain information or take them out. Meanwhile, a CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is trying to protect his asset, a mysterious person codenamed Marble. Eventually, both Dominika and Nate’s paths will cross and a deadly game of espionage begins.
Before that, though, we spend most of our time following Dominika as she is trained. She must undergo humiliating lessons with her fellow cadets under the watchful eye of the seemingly emotionless Matron (Charlotte Rampling). This includes letting men take advantage of them and undressing in front of everyone else. This is all done in an effort to break them away from the morals that they have been raised with so that they can be more efficient spies.
I must admit that while Nate’s mission is pretty much a by-the-book spy story, I did find it interesting that they did not hold back showing what Dominika and the others have to go through in their training. It was also unique to see that a Russian spy was at the center of the movie and not an American or a certain British spy that everyone is used to seeing. In fact, it was probably Dominika’s training that kept me involved in the first half of the movie.
The performances are great all around, especially from Lawrence and Edgarton in the lead roles. They work well together as well and this is a good thing considering that the film ultimately hangs on their complicated relationship as the movie progresses.
As I stated above, it is not always easy to see the pieces of the puzzle that make up this film. Thankfully, the third act more than sticks the landing as you begin to see everything come together. I would have to watch the film again to see just how well all the pieces fit, but by the end of the movie I was satisfied.
I will also say that this is not a particularly action packed spy thriller. It is a slow burn and for me, there is nothing wrong with that. If you were coming to the film for the action, then you may very well be disappointed.
I’ll also admit that the movie doesn’t move the needle on the spy genre. It may be more brutal in some areas, but it is derivative and you have seen elements in this film in other spy movies. Still, the movie ultimately gets more right than wrong with good performances and a decent third act and if you need a break from more action oriented projects, then this may very well be a film worth checking out.