Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a ballet dancer in Moscow where she lives, and when she is not performing she is looking after her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) in their pokey flat. Her uncle, Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), works for the government in some capacity, but she has never sought to question this any further, though the events of tonight will change all that as she takes to the stage in front of a sold-out house and through sheer bad luck breaks her leg during the dance. Meanwhile, as she lies in agony awaiting the ambulance, across the city one man flees the Russian authorities: he is Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), and he is a spy for the C.I.A. needing rescue.
Red Sparrow upset almost as many Jennifer Lawrence fans as her other movie of around this point, mother!, which confounded them utterly - or quite a lot of them, at any rate. However, it was evidence she was not about to fall back on lame romcoms or prestige drama where she would be suffocated by respectability, she was not going to rest on her laurels either, and pushing herself into challenging work felt right to many who appreciated this career path. This was sold as the movie where she got naked, though if you were solely watching for that aspect you would be let down this was not an erotic effort, as everything sexual here was turned into an unromantic power play.
Is Dominika even capable of love? That's a question that may pop into your mind the further into intrigue she descends and you wonder if her experiences have hardened her resolve, not to mention her ability to feel affection since every time she does so, she is thwarted by the monolithic authorities. It is Vanya who recruits her to the spy game after she concedes she cannot dance anymore, and she is sent to a training school for espionage agents specialising in honey traps and using their bodies to entrap the enemies of the state, something that should by all rights see her control over her existence quickly evaporate as she and her fellow students become tools of that state.
There was a lot here about how dastardly the Russians were when it came to ordering about not only its own citizens, but making other countries dance to their tune as well. It was based on a book written by an ex-C.I.A. man, Jason Matthews, who you had to assume if he wasn't applying his experience to propaganda then he had a fairly good idea of what he was on about, and it could not have come at a more timely moment as Vladimir Putin had already taken up the mantle of an evil mastermind replacing his lack of financial clout with a more insidious campaign of obfuscation and confusion across the world to divide and conquer Russia's global rivals. Or that was the impression the rest of the world was taking from his apparent activities, meddling in the American Government and murdering his opponents with impunity.
Thus Dominika came across as a fairly believable victim of that kind of activity, while also employing her new skills to her own ends as she begins to despise her masters and looks out for an escape plan for herself. There was a lot focused on how it was essential to move past paranoia and violence if you ever wanted to progress as a person or a nation, but also how addictive those can be if they got you what you wanted when you gave in to immorality and used them to tighten your hold over whichever target you needed to feel superior to. But it had to be said, this was not quite as satisfying a thriller as it seemed to believe, relying not so much on twists as unpleasant setpieces in darkened rooms to generate the tension, and otherwise erring on longwinded plotting when a snappier ninety-minute spy flick was struggling to get out. Nevertheless, Lawrence truly committed to this, and amongst her older co-stars succeeded in making us care about the title character right to the ending. Music by James Newton Howard.