Red Sparrow




Jason Matthews is a retired CIA officer who accrued thirty-three years of service involving stints as Station Chief in numerous overseas locations and counter-terrorism intelligence work so he knows the murky demi-monde of espionage intimately.  His 2013 novel ‘Red Sparrow’ has been put to screen with Jennifer Lawrence as the lead and directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation) who helmed her in the last three ‘Hunger Games’ blockbusters. 


Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a prima ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet who breaks her leg badly while performing.  Dominika has a very ailing mother (Joely Richardson) whose medical treatment and life-saving drugs are costly and now with the door permanently closed on the options of dancing again, her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose designs on Dominika seem less than savory, offers her an option.  Her mother can remain in their Bolshoi-owned apartment and receive government-paid healthcare if Dominika will become a ‘Sparrow’, one of a cadre of ruthlessly trained women and men whose purpose is espionage and black ops.


With no alternative available, Dominika attends ‘Sparrow School’ run by a coldly efficient woman known as Matron (Charlotte Rampling.)  The training is brutal and depersonalizing with a view to turning humans into soulless automatons who effectively carry out any order. Matron is given to making comments such as “The Cold War did not end.  It shattered into a thousand explosive pieces” and that the aim of the school was to return Russia to top world position while the West was “drunk on shopping and social media”.


While these events are transpiring, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), a Moscow-based clandestine CIA operative has been running a deep cover Russian mole and when this source is almost compromised he flees to Budapest from where he continues his manipulation.  Dominika’s Uncle Vanya (yes that is his name, although I doubt there will be many Chekhov readers in this movie’s audience) sends her to Budapest to discover, by any and every means possible, the identity of the high-level traitor being controlled by Nash.  But Nate is sharp and savvy, he is aware of her game and has his own agenda at work.  Be prepared for an accelerating complexity that includes duplicitous agents, rogue CIA spooks, double-crosses and unexpected twists.


Some very familiar faces popped up in support including Jeremy Irons, Douglas Hodge, Mary-Louise Parker and Ciaran Hinds.


While a harking back to the halcyon ‘reds under the bed’ era of Le Carré may seem dated in 2018, with the recent upheaval about Russian meddling in the U.S. election and Putin brandishing tales of unstoppable weapons, it appears that America and Russia are poised for a new Cold War so this is actually quite topical.


It is neither a great success nor an outright failure.  The direction is uneven at times, the knotted plotting with its tangles and reversals becomes convoluted and there seems a dissonance running through the production that is also evident with the cinematography. Although good for the most part, some panoramic and vista scenes are superbly shot while some of the interior scenes seem clumsily lit, signaling their movie set origins. 


This film was released in Australia under an MA rating.  While there are some sex scenes, the rating relates more to the violence content which is very confronting in parts. Take heed- this is not for the squeamish.  While not quite as horrendous as what befell her in the unbelievably dark and twisted MOTHER in 2017, this pull-no-punches spy romp puts Jennifer Lawrence through the wringer on screen yet again.  (The world’s highest paid actress is definitely earning her salary of late.)  It is also relatively lengthy at 139 minutes.





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