Some praise ex-CIA agent Jason Matthews’ novel Red Sparrow, calling it it a return to the days of John LeCarre and Ian Fleming. Does appropriating the plot of From Russia With Love, while adding an enhanced layer of violence, give evidence of a new LeCarre among us? Director Frank Lawrence, of the Hunger Games franchise, makes his adaptation of Red Sparrow heavier in gore than it is in fun.
Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) got her leg ruined during a spoiled pas de deux, andin consideration of what comes nextit’s surprising they don’t just shoot her like an injured racehorse. Now that the State has no more use for her, she faces poverty. Her wicked uncle Vanya (Mads Mikkelsen cosplayer Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits Dominika into the “Sparrow” program.
It’s apparently the same place they taught the Avengers’ Black Widow everything she knows. Groomed to become ultimate courtesans, the students will seduce and gather information from targets. After graduating, Dominika encounters soulful American agent Nash (Joel Edgerton, perhaps cast for his resemblance to Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold). He’s kind to herthe first man she’s met who doesn’t just order her to take off her clothes. Considering a new career as a double agent, Dominika helps Nash to seek a mole deep in the Soviet, I mean Russian, government.
The premise is that nothing has changed since the Soviet days, hence the “red.” Dominika’s mother is trapped, as if behind the Iron Curtain, unable to get the medical care she needs. The settings are pure Eastern bloc: brutal architecture, eternally cold and tinted ice blue. The movie is a refrigerator, and you can smell that something’s gone bad in it. The scene shifting is often unclearit’s the problem of telling the difference between Budapest playing Moscow and Budapest playing Budapest.
J-Law is physically strapping, her bangs are adorable, her face is Muscovite blank and her accent is appalling. Lawrence can’t play what’s not here, and she has even less back story than Tatiana had in From Russia With Love (Bond’s petite amie was also a ballerina forcibly turned courtesan-agent).
Several actors aboard who are too good for their archetypes, including Charlotte Rampling as the movie’s Rosa Klebb and Jeremy Irons as a humane Russian amid all the blood-drinkers. The latter category includes the ever-scowling Ciaran Hinds, who may be Irish but has a face made for the Politburo.
R; 139 Mins.