Some praise ex-CIA agent Jason Matthews’ novel Red Sparrow and call it a return to the days of John le Carré and Ian Fleming. Does appropriating the plot of From Russia With Love, while adding an enhanced layer of violence, give evidence of a new le Carré among us? Director Francis Lawrence, of the Hunger Games franchise, makes his adaptation of Red Sparrow heavier in gore than it is in fun.
Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) got her leg ruined during a spoiled pas de deux, and—in consideration of what comes next—it’s surprising that they don’t just shoot her like an injured racehorse. Now that the State has no more use for her, she faces poverty. Her wicked uncle Vanya (Mads Mikkelsen cos-player Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits Dominika into the “Sparrow” program. It’s apparently the same place they taught the Avengers’ Black Widow everything she knows. Groomed to become ultimate courtesans, the students will seduce and gather information from targets. After graduating, Dominika encounters soulful American agent Nash (Joel Edgerton). He’s kind to her—the first man she’s met who doesn’t just order her to take off her clothes. Considering a new career as a double agent, Dominika helps Nash seek a mole deep in the Soviet, I mean Russian, government.
The premise is that nothing has changed since the Soviet days, hence the “red.” Dominika’s mother is trapped as if behind the Iron Curtain, unable to get the medical care she needs. The settings are pure Eastern Bloc, brutal architecture, eternally cold and tinted ice blue. J-Law is physically strapping, and her accent is appalling. Lawrence can’t play what’s not here, and she has even less backstory than Tatiana had in From Russia With Love.
Several actors aboard are too good for their archetypes, including Charlotte Rampling as the movie’s Rosa Klebb and Jeremy Irons as a humane Russian amid all the bloodrinkers. The latter category includes the ever-scowling Ciarán Hinds, who may be Irish but has a face made for the Politburo.