Planting a flag firmly at the intersection of collusion, espionage and revenge Red Sparrow is a spy thriller with multiple intrigues and marvellous (though regrettable) resonance. As if a commentary on current affairs, the film, based on a book by Jason Matthews, wields the ruthlessness and psychological manipulation rife in its narrative as characteristics of real and no-less insidious geopolitical crimes.
Set in modern-day Moscow, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a former leading ballerina at the Bolshoi, where her leg was broken mid-performance by a premeditated incident, borne from professional rivalry. She finds herself blackmailed by her uncle Vanya (Matthais Shoenaerts) to attend what she later describes as a “whore school” in which pupils are taught to use their bodies and seduction as weapons for their country.
Her first mission sends her to Budapest to extract the name of a Russian mole — leaking all manner of secrets to the enemy — from a CIA officer, Nate (Joel Edgerton), who as it turns out is nurturing his own plans to recruit her as a double-agent.
Were it not for the director Francis Lawrence’s steady hands and adamantine focus, the gratuitous violence and excessively convoluted plot would have been the movie’s undoing. Instead, the web of chicanery are revelatory — if only afterwards — nearly like an enactment of our daily news, except with subterranean scenes unfolding before us.
The cleverness of the story becomes apparent when Dominika, selected for her unique capacity to discern motivations, and always being two steps ahead of everybody else, meticulously executes her strategy of survival to land in a perfectly calibrated denouement.
Whatever Red Sparrow does or undoes for diplomatic relations, stretched already to the point of snapping, this is a film overflowing with horror but (ultimately), too, with soul.