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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Engaging Spy Thriller
by James Colt Harrison

Staying on the edge of your seat is a difficult task while watching Red Sparrow, a tremendously engaging spy thriller from director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Mockingjay 1 & 2). This one looks like another winner from the director who graduated from Loyola Marymount University.

Oscar® winner Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) runs the gamut from dancer to seductress to harsh Russian spy in her part as Dominka Egorova. Her role as Dominika is that of a superstar of the famed Bolshoi Ballet Company in Moscow. She is adored by the public. Through an unfortunate accident, her leg gets shattered (sounds like Nancy Kerrigan again!), which ruins her dancing career.

Falling on dire financial straits because of her loss of income from the ballet, she faces expulsion from her paid-for apartment and the loss of medical insurance for her ill mother (played by the wonderful actress Joley Richardson). Evil Uncle Vanya (the suave European actor Matthias Schoenaerts), a high official in the Russian spy game, offers her a way out.

Dominika is inducted into the Red Sparrow school for spies. It is harsh, tough, humiliating, and harrowing. There is always a vicious instructor, and that task falls to the extremely marvelous actress Charlotte Rampling as the Matron. Dominating every scene she is in, Rampling steals the picture with her precise, gestapo-like techniques and leering innuendos. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her, and everybody else in the scene falls to the background -- definitely a Supporting Oscar® performance for next year’s awards. She comes across as the Nurse Ratched of spy instructors. (Louise Fletcher won the Best Actress Oscar® for that role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) There are both male and female nude scenes, but nothing you haven’t seen before. If you have never seen a naked human body, then you must have been living in a cave -- or a cuckoo’s nest.

In a special league with other spy thrillers such as The Third Man and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, director Lawrence has fashioned a thrill-a-minute hijinks film that takes place both in the West and in Moscow (with Budapest substituting for the Russian capital). Jennifer Lawrence’s character becomes involved with the American CIA Agent Nate Nash, played intriguingly by Joel Edgerton. Some of the torture scenes between Nash and Russian operatives are a bit too graphic -- and you may want to look away -- but it hammers home the fact that the Russians and Americans are not playing school yard pranks on each other.

Edgerton and Lawrence play well together, and we are always wondering if they will ever consummate their lust for each other. Lawrence’s Dominika changes her appearance in almost every scene. Her hairstyles, make-up, and coloring are all transformed as she progresses through the story. Young and beautiful enough to attract our attention, Lawrence is marvelous as the hard-hearted spy who may be thinking about going over to the other side. General Korchnoi, a biggie in the Russian hierarchy and played with suaveness and elan by Britain’s Oscar ® winning actor Jeremy Irons, notices Dominika’s special talents and sees a great future for her. Little do we realize exactly what kind of future lies ahead for the knock-out, model-like spy.

Interest in the story never flags, and there are enough twists and turns to please fans of international thrillers. Red Sparrow ends up as one of the finest films of this genre to arrive on screens in a long time. Lawrence and Edgerton are both efficient in their roles, and the story is cast with many fine actors of substance. Plus, Lawrence redeems herself after appearing in that dreadful film, Mother!, earlier this season.

(Released by Twentieth Century Fox/ Chernin Entertainment and rated “R” for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.)

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