Boy, where do I start on this one? Warning you now, this film is not pretty. There’s blood, violence, rape, attempted rape, full frontal nudity, horrific murder, and torture. I don’t recommend even reading this review if these things upset you, and I barely graze the surface. Disclaimer achieved.
Director Francis Lawrence doesn’t pull any punches with Justin Haythe’s script on this one, let me tell you. Red Sparrow is based on a book by Jason Matthews and stars Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, a ballet dancer with the Bolshoi whose uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) is deputy director of the SVR. Her father is dead and her mother Nina (Joely Richardson) is ill, and their apartment and her mother’s doctors are provided courtesy of the Bolshoi.
One night, at a performance, Dominika’s partner Konstantin (Sergei Polunin) lands on her leg, snapping it and killing off her ballet career. After three months of healing, Uncle Vanya shows up at the apartment and basically blackmails Dominika into coming to him for a job by exploiting her need for work to keep her mother’s doctors and by giving her information that Konstantin fell on her leg on purpose to give jealous ballerina Sonya (Nicole O’Neill) a chance on stage.
Cue Dominika heading to the theater, following the two into the women’s showers, finding them having sex… and beating both of them bloody with her cane. This is just the first taste of violence that we find our heroine capable of.
After this, she agrees to her uncle’s request and takes an assignment to meet with a government official (Kristof Konrad) who is believed to be an enemy of the state. She dresses up and takes the official back to her room, where she’s supposed to exchange his cell phone with a fake one. But all does not go according to plan; while the official is raping her, an assassin murders him with a garrotte. The assassin, who works for Uncle Vanya, takes Dominika back to him, and as she’s just witnessed the murder of an official, he gives her the choice to either die, or go off to State School 4 to become a Sparrow, a spy trained to use sex and psychology as a weapon against enemies of the state. By the title of the movie, you can guess which one she takes.
After her Sparrow training, she’s off to get close to CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who knows the name of a mole in the Russian government. Her job is to get close, get the name, and get the information back to Russia. But of course, nothing’s ever that simple.
Costuming was brilliant. James Newton Howard’s score was beautifully composed. The cast was sensational. The story was suspenseful and gritty. The content, though… well, I’m a seasoned Freddy Krueger fan, an absolute Elm Street Brat, and there were some scenes that made me nauseous. So skip over this one if your sensibilities are easily offended. If not, well… you’re in for a hell of a ride.