Cinematic Releases: Mother Russia: Red Sparrow (2018) Reviewed


Red Sparrow is a pretty good spy thriller elevated by decent writing and a very strong lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. If that character was not interesting, the movie would not have worked. It could very easily have become a muddled mess. Thankfully, Lawrence is a strong actress and she deftly pulls off a complex role that kept me engaged and intrigued throughout the entire film. 

She plays Dominika Egorova, a ballet dancer whose career is ended after a horrific injury. She is given a job opportunity by her Uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works for a Russian spy agency. After he is pleased with her work, he sends her to school to become a sparrow. There, she is trained in the art of seduction and deceit. 

As in most spy movies, there are many twists, turns and surprises. The connections between some of the characters can become confusing, as can their motivations. Here, those confusing motivations are largely intentional. They are a big part of Red Sparrow’s mysteries. And those mysteries are made more interesting by Lawrence’s performance as Dominika. She is a strong woman put in a position that makes her largely powerless. Once she accepts her Uncle’s proposal, her life is essentially taken out of her hands. The way she chooses to handle this powerlessness shows her intelligence and her resolve. And Lawrence is able to relate that inner struggle with a subtlety that is very impressive.

Really, the acting as a whole is good. Besides Schoenaerts as her uncle and Edgerton as the CIA agent, there is Charlotte Rampling as the head of the school and Jeremy Irons and CiarĂ¡n Hinds as Russian spies. They all provide quality support and are given some nice moments. But the movie is not about any of them. It is about how Dominika reacts to them. The movie knows where its story is and stays there. It has one story to tell and it tells that in a reasonably entertaining way.

I will bed you. And then I will kill you. 

Red Sparrow was directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Justin Haythe (based on the 2013 novel by Jason Matthews). There are a few scenes of surprisingly strong violence, though this is not an action movie. They certainly make it clear how dangerous this world is and how vulnerable Dominika is, but a lot of the drama is psychological. This is not necessarily a realistic film, even though it is more grounded than a lot of spy movies. But Jennifer Lawrence centers the story. I truly cared about what happened to her character which made this more than just a story about some clever spies. It is a character study with a relatively narrow focus. And it is a better film because of that.

Red Sparrow is not a great spy movie. It is a little too long, has too much setup and really only develops one character. But that character is quite fascinating and the writing and direction really allows this to be an effective star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence. They mostly stayed out of her way and gave her solid enough support from the supporting cast. The result is a fairly well-crafted espionage film and a pretty great popcorn movie.


-Ben Pivoz