Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow starring Jennifer Lawrence is an action espionage thriller that’s raw, bloody, steamy, sexy, and sure to give you a hypnotic experience with a satisfying payoff in its ending. Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a prima ballerina who lives with her mother, briefly taking care of her until the caregiver arrives, so that she can attend to her practices and preparation for her upcoming performance, live on stage in front of several hundred of Russia’s most affluent. As she performs, she breaks her leg in front Dmitry Ustinov (Kristof Konrad), a wealthy Russian politician/gangster sitting amid the crowd. This scene happens in conjunction with Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), a CIA agent who crosses paths with a Russian mole, only to be interrupted by a Russian policeman in which he fires his weapon to create a diversion.
The film’s rawness reveals itself when Dominika has open wound surgery on her leg where a metal rod is drilled into her tibia bone. Her uncle is the deputy director for Russia’s External Intelligence Service. She enters a conference room for a meeting where we see General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) where they show her uncle a surveillance tape of Nash’s encounter with who they believe is the mole in the Russian Intelligence Service. “The real question is, who is he?” Korchnoi says, in regard to a mysterious man, hidden in the darkness of the alley. A clever tactic by screenwriter Justin Haythe in this scene in having Jeremy Irons’ character deliver that line of dialogue.
Three months later, Dominika’s leg has healed and now walks with a cane. She’s given an envelope of photographs, given to her by her Uncle, of her dance partner and boyfriend, who’s been cheating on her with Dominika’s new ballerina replacement, Sonya (Nicole O’Neill). Dominika spies on the two dance partners after their rehearsal and follows them into the steam room, where the two are engaging in intercourse. She removes her cane and beats the both of them amid their bliss. We’re given a taste of erotica combined with violence resulting in disturbance as Dominika obliterates the ballerina Sonya and her ex-boyfriend in the steam room; erotic sex mixed with murder and blood over naked bodies create a mix of pleasure mixed with pain.
Her mother’s caregiver quits because they can’t afford it so she’s forced to take up her uncle’s offer. He bribes her since she’s lost medical coverage due to her injury and Dominika accepts his proposal of attending a state school, where she is to learn the manipulative art of sexual seduction. But first, she learns that state security is interested in learning more about Dmitry. He uncle convinces Dominika to seduce Dmitry. He offers her the safety and health of her mother with recruitment in exchange for seducing Dmitry. Dominika, not aware that she’s working for Russian Intelligence, goes on a date with Dmitri to an upscale restaurant which inevitably leads up to his bedroom, due to his attraction to her. Dmitri sends away his guards so that he can have a private encounter of intimacy in the bedroom. With a stripped Dominika on her back, and Dimitry facing her on top, a mysterious hit man murderers Dmitri, strangling him with a wire. Blood splatters over Dominika’s undressed body.
Dominika is sent to the Sparrow state school to become a trained professional at the art of seduction. She’s told that her body belongs to the state since her birth state nourished it and now it’s her time to repay. The school is horrendous with extreme techniques like recording sex seductions in hotel rooms. Her uncle pulls her out of state school and sends her to spy on Nash to find out who the mole in the Russian government is. “Every human being is a puzzle in need. Learn to be the missing piece.” Dominika is taught this, among many others horrifying tricks.
Red Sparrow is an erotic thriller with a main story that is progressively linear but intercut with flashbacks and flashforwards that do not hinder the structure of the plot. The production design is filled Neoclassical architecture, fine marbles and luxurious interiors and the overall exterior scenery of Russia is magnificent. There were some minor quirks of redundancy like characters explaining something after we’ve already seen it happen on-screen, but overall this film serves as a stimulating espionage thriller evoking hypnotic sensations and keeps you guessing until the very end.