Verdict: Clever storytelling with a masterful performance.
Russians and Americans haven't seen eye to eye for the longest time and Red Sparrow doesn't take long to remind you that the Cold War hasn't really ended. With Francis Lawrence's experienced direction and Justin Haythe's screenplay based on a book written by an ex-CIA operative, Red Sparrow is an interesting take on modern spies told from the perspective of a female agent who has been selected solely for her looks.
What's Red Sparrow About:
Dominika Egarova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a ballerina who has to quit dancing due to unforeseen circumstances and trained as a 'Sparrow'. Sparrows are Russian agents who have to go through a grueling training to learn the art of seduction. As she shows promising talent and is favored by the superiors because of her uncle's high position in the government, she is assigned to extract the name of a mole in the Russian government from a CIA agent, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Her ultimate goal is survival, and Red Sparrow does not hold back to show how much she has to go through to achieve it. You need a strong stomach because it's as real as it gets – from the rampant misogyny in the field to the gruesome lengths the Russian officials can go to without flinching. This film really earns its 'A' rating.
Red Sparrow is quite unlike other espionage films. While most of the female spies we've seen in recent years rely on action to show their competency, Dominika is a character who has to use her mind and body to get information out of her target through other ways. This not only makes for an intriguing premise, it also makes way for the style to be a prominent part of the film. There are scenes where Lawrence puts on her red dress that is reminiscent of the Katniss' iconic red dress in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which could have been a conscious choice especially as the costume designs are by Trish Summerville for both the films.
Jennifer Lawrence shows her mastery of conveying emotions through subtle nuances. She holds power in multiple scenes while having little to no dialogue. While she stands out, the rest of the cast have also done well. Joel Edgerton adds a human element to his character of Nate Nash, making him seem like just another person who wants to do the right thing instead of being the suave spy who's inexplicably good at everything he does. Another notable performance is by Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Dominika's uncle, Ivan, who also manages to shift from being well-meaning to creepy in a short span.
Red Sparrow also gets the suspense right. Rather than keeping information, Red Sparrow lays it all on the table, with only the identity of mole remaining a mystery. The true suspense comes from what's going on inside the minds of the characters. Whether Dominika's loyalties lie with the Russians or the Americans are unclear through the whole film.
What Could Have Been Better:
Red Sparrow takes a bit of artistic liberty when it comes to Russians speaking English for almost all parts of the film. While most of the script has clever writing with characters making wise decisions, there are a few scenes where logic takes a backseat to plot convenience.
Why You Should Watch:
Red Sparrow will keep you guessing all the way to the end. Plus, if you aren't a fan of Jennifer Lawrence already, this film will make you one.