Ex-CIA agent Jason Matthews’ novel Red Sparrow has been called a return to the days of John LeCarre and Ian Fleming. Does appropriating the plot in 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) injured her her leg during a spoiled pas de deux, and—in consideration of what comes next—it’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 (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 a 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 her. Dominika helps Nash seek a mole in the Russian government.
The premise here 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 block, brutal architecture, eternally cold and tinted ice blue. The scene shifting is often unclear—it’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.
Several actors are too good for their archetypes, including Charlotte Rampling as the movie’s sadistic Rosa Klebb and Jeremy Irons as a humane Russian amid all the bloodrinkers. The latter category includes the ever-scowling Ciaran Hinds, who may be Irish but has a face made for the Politburo.
‘Red Sparrow’ is playing in wide North Bay release