Jennifer Lawrence holds nothing back in her intense and calculating new spy thriller Red Sparrow which is packed out with plenty of twists that you’ll never see coming.
Dominika Egorov (Lawrence) is a Russian Spy trained as a ‘sparrow’ or an operative who has been taught to use her femininity as a weapon. But after she is initially charged to seduce CIA case officer Nathanial Nash (Joel Edgerton), Dominika begins to fall in love with him and considers becoming a double agent.
Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Constantine) takes audiences inside a dark and dangerous landscape of political intrigue and vicious spy action with Red Sparrow. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Justin Matthews, Red Sparrow is a gripping portrayal of current-day espionage. Lawrence doesn’t shy away from any of it, and captures the murky waters that these operatives and operations are carried out in. While some will find it uncomfortable to watch, it’s one of the more realistic portrayal of professional espionage ever captured on screen and he also brings his unique eye for design and a good dose of Russian cultural appropriation into the film as well.
Jennifer Lawrence has long been lauded as one of the best young actresses working today. She’s never been afraid of a challenge, but her role as Dominika Egorov is her most grown-up role to date. In Red Sparrow hers is the almost anti-coming-of-age story as very early on her world shatters and she is forced to accept a new one. It’s in these early moments that we also see Dominika’s true character. She’s a survivor, a calculating machine and a person who is prone to certain psychopathic tendencies. While there is a definite innocence to her character do not be fooled….she knows the game that she’s playing. Lawrence again gives herself completely to her character and engages in some pretty intense behaviour on-screen. She pushes herself both physically and mentally with this role and it really shows through.
Standing next to her is Joel Edgerton as Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash, an American CIA case officer who blows a big operation and is given one last chance to make contact with his source. His is a fascinating character as he is viewed as a degenerate with a passion for liquor and fast woman, but his actions instead show a man who is incredibly smart and calculating in his approach to his work. It’s in Nate’s character that we see one of the film’s most recurring themes: No one is who they appear to be. Everyone is playing everyone and this is exactly what we see with Nate. Edgerton also shares a great chemistry with Lawrence and it’s a romance that sizzles with a strong sexual undercurrent and almost a test of their skills between one another. They make a great match on screen together and I’d love to see them work together again.
I can’t also look past Matthias Schoenaerts as the incredibly creepy Ivan Egorov, Dominika’s uncle who places her in the Sparrow School and moulds her into a lethal operative. There’s a calm sense of sadism about Ivan. While he might have the behaviour and courtesy of a politician he is also a man who is willing to eliminate any problem that he deems unacceptable, and in the most brutal way possible. His interactions with Lawrence are a source of interest and I was very pleased with what he did with the role.
Red Sparrow also has considerable style. It’s cinematography, costuming and musical score imply great elegance and evoke the classic noir style of filmmaking that we have long aligned with the work of the spy genre. Cinematographer Jo Willems captures the considerable dark beauty of the former Eastern Bloc in considerable style and incorporates a pallette of slate greys, crisp blacks and bold crimson red into his design aesthetic. Then there’s costume designer Trish Summerville who really gets to do something special with the film, especially Dominka’s vast wardrobe changes as she walks through the world as a sparrow.
Let’s also make the distinction that Red Sparrow is not a PG film and that it is a very intense watch. A dangerous sexuality runs through it as Dominika is subject to a world of powerful men who can take anything from a woman they want. Dominika falls into this world, and while initially victimized by it, draws on her sexuality as a weapon and soon becomes a master seducer who can take what she wants from any man. While these moments are certainly shocking to watch, and can at times be extremely uncomfortable, they are in keeping with the spirit and energy of the film. Red Sparrow also gets extremely violent at times, especially it’s brutal interrogation scenes, but again this is in keeping with the film’s elevated and dangerous espionage world.
The twists are also worth praising and I could count at least five times when I jumped out of my seat in shock. While jump scares get me every time it has been a long time since a thriller made me jump. Lawrence knows how to calculate pressure and intensity in his film and you’re guaranteed to never see the ending coming. It took me completely by surprise and is a real fitting end to this intense cinematic experience.
Red Sparrow is one of the more shocking and intense spy films that I’ve seen in a while and it’s definitely Jennifer Lawrence’s most adult performance to date. For the right audience, who are not afraid of a bit of grit and are looking for something a little bit more shocking, it’s a thriller that definitely delivers.
Image: 20th Century Fox