Red Sparrow is really solid. It's the kind of made-for-adults slow burn espionage film that thrived in the '70s here in the US and pops up occasionally overseas. Paul Verhoeven's Black Book is the last movie I can remember evoking the very unique tone.
Gone are the YA sensibilities you might expect from a reteam of Hunger Games director and star Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) and in its place is a Cold War powder keg that is punctuated with moments of extreme violence and sexuality.
Basically you have Jennifer Lawrence playing Dominika, a Russian Prima Ballerina whose creepy uncle enlists into the state's seductress spy program after she breaks her leg and thus becomes... not as graceful? I don't know how ballet works, but her life is pretty much over. Her passion was dancing and she worked towards being the best since she was a small child and now that's gone.
Also gone is the money, nursing care for her sick mom and the housing provided by the ballerina company. She's desperate and agrees to use her beauty and former fame to help entrap an enemy of the state. Of course that goes violent very quickly and she's forced to choose death for her and her mother or enlisting to become a Sparrow.
She chooses option B.
What I really liked about this movie was how delicately and intricately the intrigue was laid out. Dominka is smart, but always in danger. How much leverage does the State have over her? How many chess moves ahead is she at any given time? Who is she playing?
That mystery is what makes or breaks a good espionage thriller and I think Francis Lawrence nailed it here.
The plot is less focused on solving the core mystery of figuring out who is the mole within the Russian hierarchy that is being protected by the US and more about how the hell Dominika is going to survive. She's not Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. She can't fight her way out of any situation. But she's far from weak, but she's not Wonder Woman. Her superpower lies in smarts and manipulation.
There are a couple of moments in the movie where she's in life or death situations and has to fight and when those happen the violence is brutal, realistic and dangerous. A knife is scarier than a gun here and I love it when a movie can feel dangerous for its lead.
Lawrence gives it her all here and crafts a character that is strong because of her weaknesses. She's on a pretty hot streak at the moment. Love or hate mother! you have to admit that she gives a tour de force performance in it, despite what the dipshits that run the Razzies think.
She's using her fame to help interesting projects that would not get off the ground without her A-list power and that's something she should be commended for. I'm sure she's offered every rom-com script in Hollywood, but she's choosing weird instead.
Red Sparrow isn't a movie designed to wow you with giant set pieces. It's built to pull you into a world and make you care about the leads. You'll try to figure out who's playing who and at what point and if you're anything like me you'll be a couple steps ahead of the movie at some points and then realize you're way behind at other points.
I dig this one a lot.