Francis Lawrence‘s "Red Sparrow" (Which opens on March 2nd) was shot in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and, very briefly, London. Its globe-trotting pace is breezily felt, and, as far as spy thrillers go, the film is successful at convening fresh blood into a genre that has been done to death at the movies. "Red Sparrow" is a 139-minute cold-war spy-thriller that is as much about sex as it is about spying.
The Russian ballerina Jennifer Lawrence portrays, Dominika Ergova, is all but forced to adhere to the endless brutality of a regime that wants you to put country before anything else. It helps, or rather doesn’t, that her uncle works for the government and, after a horrific on-stage injury, tries to enlist his niece to enroll in “whore school” to graduate as a "Red Sparrow." The "Sparrow" graduate degree has Dominika becoming a government-controlled seductress/double agent. She's not forced by any means to do this but is promised prime health care for her ill mother (Joely Richardson in a thinly written role), whom Ergova is very close to, even sharing an apartment her.
Joel Edgerton‘s Nathaniel Nash is a CIA agent that is supposed to be seduced by Dominika, in an attempt to uncover a Russian mole, but outsmarts her and soon realizes she's a Russian spy, he then attempts to recruit her to work for the Americans and the CIA.
Justin Haythe‘s screenplay is an adaptation of Jason Matthews’ similarly-titled novel. Most of the violence in "Red Sparrow,' sexual and otherwise, happens to Dominika, and it is quite brutal to behold. The scenes at the Sparrow Academy are hardest to watch,
Charlotte Rampling plays the Soviet instructor trying to teach the boys and girls at the school to not be afraid to give their bodies to the men they're targeting. The aggressively sexual nature of these scenes is not easy to watch, especially the physical brutality that Rampling's professor puts her students into, including Ergorova being forced to perform fellatio on a fellow student. There's also a pair of attempted rapes and, much later after Ergova "graduates,"savage beating-and-torture scenes that use unusually original ways to muster up confessions from the victims.
Lawrence is surprisingly effective, despite the average Russian accent, and really does make you invested in the rather too neatly designed plotting. It's a sexy and smartly delivered performance that truly proves how much of a star she is, if we had any doubt. Her screen presence is magnetic. However, Despite all that, the film is overlong and could have used a trim on its 4 fake-out endings. A good 20 minutes could have been edited off. With the exception of Lawrence, the performances are fine but don't offer anything overtly spectacular. This is very much a star vehicle through and through.
I must mention Mary-Louise Parker who's alcoholic, turned, Senator Stephanie Boucher is a hoot to behold, which begs to ask the question, when is Parker ever not good? Her Boucher has started selling government secrets to the Russians and her scene at a hotel, where she is to be given 250,000 in cash in exchange for a floppy disk of info, remember those, is expertly delivered by director Lawrence.
I have been a fan of Francis Lawrence's past work, most notably "I Am Legend," and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and here he brings the same beautiful flow to action as he did in those movies. His style, in a way, is very old-school and is refreshing to behold at a time in mainstream cinema when fast-cutting and over-use of CGI is the norm. Kudos to Jo Willems‘ excellent cinematography as well, evoking the snowy mountainous breeze of Freddie Young's work in "Doctor Zhivago" and delivering penetratingly absorbing frames. [B]