How It All Begins
Red Sparrow is a wonderfully intricate web of deception set in the spy world of the Russians versus Americans. This movie, directed by Francis Lawrence (not related to Jennifer Lawrence), based on the same name book by Jason Matthews, will make your chest hairs curl. By the end of the movie, you understand the level of deceit that people will go to, to get what they want.
Director Lawrence, who also directed the last three of the four Hunger Games movies, does an excellent job with the actors and the flow of the movie plot. There are some genius moments in this movie.
The opening scene starts out with Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), top ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet. She is sitting on her bed at home, listening to music. The scene then cuts over to Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), an undercover CIA operative puttering around in his apartment in Moscow.
He suddenly gets a coded phone call from which he deciphers where his next meeting place will be with his Russian contact, Marvel. He quickly packs up the gear he needs for the meeting and heads out.
The Plot Thickens
Each scene follows one or the other of these two characters throughout that day as they tend to various duties that move them into the evening hours. Dominika is now ready to perform on stage, while Nash has finished up his coffee at a restaurant. He heads towards the park to meet his undercover Russian connection.
The tension builds, assisted by the ballet music, which has been playing from the beginning of the movie. Dominika is dancing on the stage in performance. At the same time, Nate and his Russian contact pass each other on the park path and make a quick exchange. They nearly get caught by the Russian police car patrol unit in the park who unexpectedly comes up behind them.
Nate distracts the police away from his contact in the park by shooting off several rounds from his gun. A tense chase scene ensues, but both Nate and the Russian contact manage to get away. As Dominika does big jumps on the stage, so does Nate, as he leaps over the concrete barriers at the American Embassy.
Dominika and Nate end up on the ground at the same moment in the music. Nate, at the gate of the American Embassy, leaps to safety and falls to the ground at the feet of the guards. Simultaneously, Dominika suffers an injury during the performance when her partner leaps and lands on one of her legs. She is sprawled flat on center stage, in front of thousands of fans who are there to see her dance. One leg is folded at an unnatural angle, with bones shattered. It is a cringe-worthy moment.
Great Ballet Section
The ballet sections with Jennifer Lawrence as the ballerina, were so well done that one would not even think that it was not Lawrence actually dancing. It was definitely her face. The dance double was ballerina star, Isabella Boylston, of American Ballet Theater. The male partner was internationally-known Ukranian ballet star, Sergei Polunin, who performs as a leading artist with several ballet companies around the world.
The dancing by all in this section was performed very admirably, and in rhythm with the music. Of this section, one can say now that you can be a ballet star in film, without having to be a ballet star in real life. It works. And it works well. You just have to have all the right people around you to make it happen.
Kudos to Justin Peck, the choreographer, and Kurt Froman along with Olga Kostritzky, the ballet coaches for Lawrence. The music for the ballet section, carried over into Nate’s section, was composed by James Newton Howard. The music, essentially, ties the opening plot together in so many little ways, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Howard has an impressive history of film scores to his career including those for the Hunger Games movie series, in which Jennifer Lawrence also starred.
It’s In the Details
The opening scenes were detailed in this review because they were so well done and in sync with each other, even though the main characters had not even met at this point. Yet all of this happened in the same night. Very cleverly done to make the connections of these two characters through the music.
The Web of Control Begins
Dominika’s ballet career is over in a split second, and she is now headed into a new unknown part of her life as an ordinary person. Meanwhile, Nate has blown his cover and the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, have him in their sights. Consequently, SVR also wants to know who the other man is in the park.
Enter the less-than-savory uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), Deputy Director of the SVR. He takes control of Dominika and leads her down a path she would never have thought possible. First, the web of control begins when Egorov gives her tangible evidence that the accident on stage, was planned.
From Ballerina to Sparrow Agent
Her anger over the loss of her ballet career, sends her to commit an action that most of us might consider in our dreams of revenge, but never act on. The results put Dominika in a very vulnerable situation and her life is no longer her own. She is sent to Sparrow school. The rest of the movie shows what happens when a person is under another’s control, yet still retains a certain independence that no one can touch, regardless of politics.
Great Character Performances
The Uncle from SVR
Schoenaerts, as the uncle, Egorov, gives an outstanding performance and you really have to hate him by the end of the movie. A man with a handsome face, but filled with evil and manipulation. If you wait long enough, you hope justice will prevail.
Charlotte Rampling gives an excellent performance as Matron, head of the school for Sparrows. This is where students learn everything they need to know to subvert, seduce, and psychologically deceive their targets. Matron is a cold unmovable woman. There is nothing in life that could ever shake her resolve or scare her. The school and what it stands for is her world and she controls everything that happens there, including those who attend it.
Jeremy Irons as General Korchnoi, is always great in whatever role he shows up in. He is a high-level operations adviser to Ciarán Hinds as Director Zakharov, and to Egorov. Korchnoi has a lot to do with what happens to Dominika in the movie and is essential to Dominika leaving the Sparrow school to start her new life as a sparrow agent.
Boucher aka Swan
Mary-Louise Parker as Chief Of Staff Stephanie Boucher at the American Embassy, aka Swan to the Russians, plays a wonderfully flawed heavy-drinking target. She has only two things on her mind – money and booze.
Thekla Reuten, as Marta, the sparrow that Dominika rooms with in Budapest, has Boucher as her target. Marta is compromised when Dominika uncovers what Marta has planned for Boucher. Marta retaliates against Dominika but pays a heavy price for it.
Douglas Hodge as Maxim Volontov, the Russian section chief in Budapest, give an excellent performance as the greasy, perverted boss who must always have control, one way or another. He causes more problems than he solves.
Sebastian Hülk, remembered from a smaller role in the movie Hitman: Agent 47, gives a chilling presentation in Red Sparrow as the government assassin, Matorin. First, he murders the mark at the hotel and then saves Dominika in the getaway scene. He even shows a bit of kindness by wrapping her up in a blanket and giving her a cigarette. Don’t let that brief kindness fool you for a second. Wherever he shows up next, someone dies. He does enjoy the torture sessions. Hülk is excellent in this role.
Kincso Norah Petho, the steely-eyed icy female interrogator for the SVR, has only a short time on film but she makes you fear her. There is no way you could ever reason with this woman. You wonder how such a young beauty could ever be that type of person, one who shows little to no emotion while others suffer at her will. She pulls off the role wonderfully and is very chillingly memorable in her small, yet important part.
There are many nuances in this movie and it is very engrossing, especially if you like convoluted spy movies. It was sometimes hard to tell if Dominika was telling the truth to Nate, or if she was being subversive. The acting was great from all the characters and the plot flowed well.
There was only one little thing this reviewer noticed that many people would not even catch.
There is that moment in the park, when Nate fires his pistol several times down to the ground to distract the police from questioning his contact. If that park road he was standing on was asphalt or concrete, the bullets would have provided a nasty ricochet. Aiming a little further out, and he would have been shooting into the grass and dirt, a safer outcome. But it is just a momentary aside to even think of this, as it was the only flaw this writer saw in this movie. Besides, it took the third round of seeing this movie before catching it.
It’s the movies, after all, and this one is great. The ending is a shocking surprise twist.
You can find Red Sparrow here on Amazon.
Sign up here to get your weekly email from the CWS!