Francis Lawrence’s modern-day Cold War thriller could hardly be more timely in light of a strange week for Western-Russian relations, as Jennifer Lawrence’s not-entirely-willing Russian agent, Dominika Egorova, embarks on a labyrinthine journey to unmask a Russian mole across the capitals of Central and Western Europe, finding along the way that, at each twist in the plot, the rabbit hole becomes ever deeper.
Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence talk 'Red Sparrow'
The two, unrelated, Lawrences reunite for the first time since The Hunger Games franchise came to a close, although this movie isn't exactly reaching out to the same tweenie demographic as the dystopian young adult fiction smash. The violence is graphic, brutal, and frequent, while Lawrence's movie is more a study of the nihilistic malaise of the whole spying industry than a glitzy look at the parties and yachts of James Bond fame. There's a delightful anti-glamour twist in that of the two high-end soirees featured in the film, one results in an attempted rape, while the other features a tedious speech about bilateral ties by the US ambassador to Hungary.
Egorova, meanwhile, is hardly the happy-go-lucky party girl either. She may not be averse to a designer frock or a glass of bubbles, but is trained as a "sparrow" – an elite unit of women trained in blackmail and seduction.
This idea isn’t entirely without its own baggage, especially in the age of #MeToo. Francis Lawrence has insisted the film isn’t voyeuristic, but given the subject matter it can’t help but objectify its female characters to some degree.
Whether that’s a cardinal sin given the genre is up for some debate, but the fact remains that just because the characters using their wiles for nefarious means are talented in espionage, Russian, and female, this isn’t quite a Marxist-feminist dialectic by proxy. Nonetheless, Lawrence has crafted an enjoyable, many-layered, atmospheric thriller that scores highly for style and performances.
Characterisation and chemistry between Lawrence’s Egorova and Egerton’s male lead, CIA operative Nate Nash, is a little lacking in places, but given these are characters who are never supposed to reveal their true selves, that could be a moot point.
The plot has come in for some surprising criticism. Personally, I enjoyed the multiple twists, even if sometimes it felt like one had to keep notes on who was spying for whom exactly after the latest volte-face, and the final twist was both unexpected, and perhaps earned the movie the big feminist gold star it had lacked for most of the previous 120 minutes.
Red Sparrow is out in cinemas across the UAE today