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The trailers led me to believe I was in for a sexy Russian Spy thriller, but what I feel like I ended up with was more like La Femme Nikita crossed with I Spit on Your Grave. There wasn’t much sexiness to be seen in any part of the movie—quite the opposite in fact—with the lead character being beaten, raped, beaten, almost raped again, threatened and tortured throughout.
The thing that really got me through this movie was the cast. There’s no denying the star power of Jennifer Lawrence. These days it takes a bit of work to look past things (like the endless gossip reports and tipsy interviews on tonight shows) and actually see her apply the craft that got her to where she is. She is a great actor, although her Russian accent is a bit shaky at first, but I got used to that. The reason why I got used to that was because next to Jeremy Irons’ Russian accent she was amazing! I love Jeremy Irons as an actor, I mean he really doesn’t even need to try these days. I see him in a movie and even if he phones it in, I’m like “hey, it’s Jeremy Irons, quality,” his character was ok, his accent however was like a westernised Russian doing a Jeremy Irons impersonation.
Joel Edgerton on the other hand is an underrated but also and incredibly good actor. A personal favourite of mine, and he does what he can to make things work here.
While the cast will pull you through this sordid tale, they don’t quite save you from the plot—which is based on the novel Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, who was a former employee of the CIA’s Operations Directorate, so you’d think he knows what he’s talking about. Now I haven’t read any of his books and I think the Red Sparrow series was part of a trilogy, which means it must be ok because he wrote two more. So that leads me to conclude that this movie has fallen down at the screenplay. Which for those playing at home was written by Justin Haythe who has such classics as Disney’s 2013 clusterfuck The Lone Ranger.
Some of that blame needs to be shouldered by Director Francis Lawrence too, who also directed Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) through the last three Hunger Games movies. It does make you wonder, does this dude just loves doing terrible things to Jennifer Lawrence on camera?
But enough shitting on the movie for a second, let’s talk about the story. Dominika Ergova is a ballerina for the world famous Bolshoi Ballet, who put a roof over her head and gave her the means to care for her crippled mum in what is a pretty bleak mother Russia. She suffers a career ending injury and, at the risk of all the perks of her job drying up and pushing to poverty, she is forced by her sleazy uncle Vanya, played by Matthias Schoenarts, who works for the Russian Intelligence agency to go to Sparrow School. A tertiary institution where she can learn to use her body and sexuality to infiltrate, manipulate and extract information from her targets. Like Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, but replace soldier with whore!
I also have to call out Charlotte Rampling who puts in a brief but awesome performance as Matron, the head of the Sparrow School.
Dominika is sent on a mission to seduce and extract information from American CIA Agent Nate Nash, played by Edgerton, and find out who the mole is in the upper echelon of Russian Intelligence that is leaking all their secrets. And so the web of intrigue unfolds. There are moments in the movie where you’re left guessing who is on who’s side, and who is betraying who.
I was thinking, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a movie where it boils down to America good, Russia bad. Is that a reflection of the current state of the world? Maybe. There’s certainly shades of that Cold War Russia v America angst a-la Rocky 4 or Rambo 3, and there’s also shades of the Weinstien, controversy here, particularly with one really confronting scene in a hotel room that happens early on in the film.
Jennifer Lawrence, really does carry this movie and the character. She is very much a victim in this film until she is not. It’s good to see her character develop into the not, especially after all the horrible things she goes through.
It’s not the film you’re being sold in the trailers, and there are some scenes, particularly the torture scenes, that may be very hard to watch for some people. Although one torture scene looks like something out of a BDSM version of flash dance.
There’s also a ridiculous McGuffin in the movie—where they have the audacity to make us believe that in this modern day and age the CIA and Russian Intelligence would be storing top secret information vital to the fate and defence of their nation on a 3 and a half inch floppy disk—that will have you shouting “bull shit” at the screen!
I had high expectations for this movie which is why this review may seem unfairly harsh. I was disappointed because I thought it had so much going for it, but man, that screenplay, there were parts in the middle act that I found downright boring. However there was some redemption with the ending, which reminded me of something you’d see in a David Fincher movie, but not as well done.
Not quite the comeback I was expecting for the spy genre.