RED SPARROW begins more like BLACK SWAN as prima ballerina Dominika Egorova struts her stuff on the Bolshoi stage. But before she is allowed to spread her wings, her dance partner breaks her leg, destroying her fledgling career.
Her creepy uncle, a Kremlin spymaster bearing a remarkable likeness to the current Russian premier – talk about puttin’ on the Putin – choreographs a career move from Swan Lake to Red Sparrow, the honey pot programme that trains agents in the art of seduction, skilful practitioners of sexpionage.
This school for state sanctioned strumpets is run by a contemporary version of Rosa Klebb, the singularly monikered, Matron.
Before actual graduation, Dominika is assigned her first mission, a taste of the real and murky world she has entered, an assignation that ends in her rape and the bloody garrotting murder of her target.
And so the tone is set for RED SPARROW to be about sex and death, an exquisite tale espionage full of subterfuge, intrigue, sex and sadism. Ian Fleming couldn’t have liked it more.
Dominika is repulsed but persuaded to stay in the job so that her ailing mother may survive.
Her next assignment is to get close and personal with a CIA agent who is suspected of running a mole in the Russian State Security Apparatus. Manoeuvre and counter manoeuvre, double cross and triple cross, RED SPARROW criss crosses the Continent, from Russia to Hungary, Austria and the United Kingdom.
Based on Jason Matthews’ book of the same name, RED SPARROW’s screenplay is written by Justin Haythe. The film is directed by Francis Lawrence who has built up a rapport with his star, Jennifer Lawrence, over a series of Hunger Game films.
This is the best thing Jennifer Lawrence has done in years, an intelligent performance in an intelligent film about the intelligence world, a world like any other that needs its glass ceiling smashed and its male dominated culture emancipated from misogyny and male-evolence.
Joel Edgerton plays her target, CIA man, Nate Nash, also adept at the duplicity of his chosen field.
The supporting cast is top drawer, featuring Charlotte Rampling as Matron, Jeremy Irons as a Kremlin kingpin, Ciarin Hinds as a Politburo guru, Matthias Schoenaerts as the venal Uncle Vanya, Joely Richardson as Dominika’s mother, and Mary Louise Parker as a duplicitous American public servant.
Stylishly shot by cinematographer Jo Willems, with an elegant production design by Maria Djurkovic and costumes by Trish Summerville, RED SPARROW is a spy yarn with a calculated pace calibrated for mounting suspense, a believable scenario and a final twist computes to a compelling tale of bluff and counter bluff, torture and betrayal, deception and destruction, with a woman vanquishing victim hood and claiming victory on her own terms.