Usually, I don’t begin my positive reviews with a warning. But the brutality and sexuality of “Red Sparrow” makes it a requirement.
Please note: This spy thriller is one of the most brutal, cold-blooded films I’ve seen in years. Its portrayal of torture, sex and murder is shocking. That means it isn’t for the “PG-13” crowd, and it might surprise even those used to “R”-rated material.
That said, it’s smart, its characters are interesting and you won’t feel that its two-hour running time is overly long. Director Francis Lawrence (who directed Jennifer Lawrence – to whom he is not related, incidentally – in three of the “Hunger Games” films) keeps the suspense taught. You never know who’s going to die suddenly, whether it’s at the hands of an enemy or in a blaze of gunfire.
The script is based on a book by Jason Matthews, who in real life was a CIA operative. The story center son two secret agents, one Russian and the other American, but mostly on the Russian Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who is a ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet. A terrible (and graphically depicted) accident ends her career.
With her ailing mother (Joely Richardson), Dominika isn’t sure where to turn until her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts, “The Drop”) offers to send her to a school for secret agents, where she will learn to use both her body and her mind to obtain information. She becomes one of the agents known as “sparrows” who are highly trained to seduce anyone into revealing secrets.
What the sparrows are required to do is beyond unthinkable -- and they need to perform these acts during “class” sessions run by a strict instructor (Charlotte Rampling).
Finally, after it is determined that Dominika can detach herself from what her body is assigned to do, she assigned a target: CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerto, “Loving”) who has become close to a Russian operative. The two seem to fall for each other, but not until the very end will you know who is playing whom.
Jennifer Lawrence, as always, gives her character depth: She’s a performer who lets the audience almost see the cogs turning in her character’s brain. She’s part of an ensemble that’s top-notch, including Edgerton, another top performer whose name hasn’t found its way into being a household word yet. Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds are on hand in small but watchable roles.
Not for the kids, not for the nervous, this is for grownups who can embrace a grim cat-and-mouse spy flick.