“Have you come to commiserate, Uncle?” says ballet star Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence). A gruesome broken leg has ended her career. “There’s another life, if you want it,” says Vanya Egorova (Matthias Schoenaerts). “The training is very hard, but you can make it. Your future will be out of my hands. I’m sorry.” Uncle Vanya is high up in the Russian intelligence service and recruits Dominika for “Sparrow School,” where she will learn to use her body as a weapon. That’s the setup for this espionage thriller.
Will Dominika seduce first-tour CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), or will she fall for him? Should we believe anything either one says? Can you follow the movie’s plot through its twists and turns? I got lost.
Jennifer Lawrence does a star turn as Dominika Egorova (aka Katrina). As a child, learning ballet, she was not like others: “And I won’t ever be,” she says, “I want to be special.” Although devoted to her invalid mother (Joley Richardson), Dominika is not easy for us to care about. She beats a former ballet partner viciously (with her cane), dominates others sexually and smokes. Joel Edgerton, as CIA agent Nate Nash, is much less complex but, without his backstory, he is also hard to identify with. Matthias Schoenaerts is Uncle Vanya and Jeremy Irons is General Korchnoi, both high up in Russian intelligence.
Others in the cast include Charlotte Rampling as the emotionless Matron of “Sparrow School.” She has the best lines: “Your body belongs to the state” and “You must learn to love on command.” Dominika calls “Sparrow” the “whore school.” Mary-Louise Parker cameos as inebriated Stephanie Boucher, chief of staff to a U.S. senator. She needs $250,000, ASAP, and will do anything to get it. Joley Richardson is Dominika’s beloved mother.
“Red Sparrow” is a dark, often-brutal spy thriller, directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), from Justin Haythe’s complex script and Jason Matthews’ novel. It tells two characters’ stories: Russian spy Dominika and CIA agent Nate, cutting back and forth between them. At the film’s center is a mostly chemistry-free sexual relationship between Lawrence and Edgerton, whose characters’ attraction to each other may or may not be genuinely romantic. Who is playing whom is hard to say. Too many plot twists and characters added to my confusion, so that I couldn’t explain the ending if I tried.
Deservedly rated R for strong violence, torture, sex, language and nudity, “Red Sparrow” is way too long at 140 minutes. I’d miss this one if I were you.
In “Red Sparrow,” a nasty flick,
Keeping track is the trick –
Too many spies, psychic gloom;
Who knows who is crossing whom?