RED SPARROW, directed by Francis Lawrence, with a screenplay by Justin Haythe, came out in 2018, based off a novel written five years earlier by Jason Matthews. The $69,000,000 spy thriller was a moderate success, a gross of $151,600,000 docking at 46th place for the year. Matthews spent 33 years working for the CIA, so his dark, unsettling material has some vouch cachet built-in; in addition the set-up recalls Nelson DeMille’s slick 1988 thriller “The Charm School” as well as a dash of Salt and a pinch of Atomic Blonde. *
“Welcome to State School Four.”
Her Bolshoi career ended by severe injury, ‘Dominika Egorova’ (Jennifer Lawrence), seeking to care for her ailing mother, allows herself to be recruited into the SVR (Russian Intelligence) by its Deputy Director, her coolly calculating uncle ‘Ivan Vladimirovich’ (Matthias Schoenaerts). Coerced into a training school for ‘Sparrows’, agents who employ seduction—sexpionage—she’s charged with locating a mole in the government, being used by CIA agent ‘Nate Nash’ (Joel Edgerton). Turn of the screw, as it were.
Director Lawrence (no relation to Jen) once again guides the seemingly fearless star as he did in three of the Hunger Games epics: it all moves smoothly, with a clean look from Production Designer Maria Djurkovic, and cinematographer Jo Willems (another alum from Catniss-land) thankfully doesn’t indulge in any jiggle camera idiocy. James Newton Howard’s unobtrusive score is apt to the serious take on the enthralling but decidedly downbeat material. Longish at 140 minutes, with some jarring violence and cruelty—Lawrence undergoes as much punishment as your average Ranger battalion—but, as always, her performance is not less than superior, and the supporting cast is cold steel.
Though charisma with and from Edgerton is just so-so (will someone–Marty or Steven?–make the call that assassinates the whole Perpetual Two-Week Beard look that magically never grows longer nor requires a shave?), that slight flaw is dispelled by the presence of old pros like Jeremy Irons, whose every line caress and hinted smile are craft pleasures, and Charlotte Rampling, selling corruption at 72 as convincingly as she did in back in 19-72.
With Mary-Louise Parker (lighting up her brief scenes), Ciarán Hinds, Bill Camp, sexy Thekla Reuten, Sebastian Hülk (chilly as the torture enforcer), Douglas Hodge, Joely Richardson, Sakina Jaffrey. Shot in Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and London. The grim, often grisly, affair has almost no humor, but Uncle Ivan’s final “Great family, I have” is worth the wait. Jennifer Lawrence can infiltrate my corrupt agency whenever she wants to.
* Angelina Jolie vs. Jennifer Lawrence and/or either vs. Charlize Theron? Let the kicking begin (preceded by lengthy tracking shots of prowl striding in f-me attire). Or am I just being a mere pawn dude?