Having worked together on three of the four “Hunger Games” films, director Frances Lawrence reunites with star Jennifer Lawrence for this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. What we get here from the two is a very well shot, but at times tough to watch, espionage thriller which provides Jennifer Lawrence with her best performance since “Winter’s Bone” in 2010.
Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who suffers a career ending injury who, in order to care for her sick mother, accepts an offer from her uncle to join a Russian Intelligence group. Her training is intense and makes for some difficult viewing as the “sparrows” are trained in the art of espionage through seduction in a grim boarding school led by a woman only known as Matron, played by the brilliant Charlotte Rampling. After a number of harrowing incidents in the school, Dominika is ultimately chosen to go out in the field, and the film settles into somewhat of a more traditional espionage film that follows Dominika across Europe as she deals with her task at hand, as well as her crossing paths with an American CIA agent played by Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”). Support is provided by the always reliable Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds.
If you’re looking for an idea of what to expect, it’s worth noting that the film was at one stage to be directed by David Fincher and to star Rooney Mara, who worked together on the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in 2011, and that’s what it feels like Frances Lawrence is going for here. Like “Dragon Tattoo”, it’s a grim, violent tale with a compelling, twisted plot that’s anchored by a brave performance by its leading lady. Dominika is put through her paces in this film, as is Jennifer Lawrence In turn. While it seemed in recent years that she was on cruise control, especially in the “X-Men” films she starred in, her performance here reminds you of how good she can actually be and, and the lengths that she goes to for this performance are to be commended. Frances Lawrence’s direction is very stylish and the pacing of the film works so well that its two hour plus runtime goes by very quickly. He also doesn’t hold back on the violence. When it arrives, it’s not glamorised or glossed over; it’s in your face, realistic, and shocking from the start. Because if this, I found myself on edge as, unlike the usual run of the mill thrillers, I genuinely didn’t know what direction the film was going to take, which is probably the aspect of the film that I enjoyed the most.
“Red Sparrow” is as heavy and challenging a Hollywood film as you’re likely to see this side of “Black Swan” or “Drive”, and marks the second time in a year that Jennifer Lawrence has taken a risk on starring in a film that is potentially audience alienating. However, she turns in a terrific performance that, for me, carried and elevated the film. If you’ve ever seen “Atomic Blonde” or “Salt” and wished for a spy drama with a female lead that was more realistic, and where the real thrills come not in the form of fights and car chases, but in the reveals of double crosses and stunning locations then this is definitely the film for you.
Words of Kevin Dillon, @kevinwritestuff
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