It seems that there are two types of spy movies. There’s the dark, gritty one where the duty takes it’s toll on the one that must be said spy. Then there is the romanticised world where everyone is attractive and things are sleek. Red Sparrow is the latter but with peppering of a dark gritty world.
We open on a raising red curtain. We are at a ballet and the dancers perform. Somewhere else a man deciphers a code and goes out into the cold of Russia. The dancers dance with Dominika (Jennifer Laurence) being the star. The man meets another man and they pass something between them, a close call causes him to fire his gun so the police will chase him. Near the end of the ballet Dominka’s leg is crushed by a mistake of her co-star leaving her dancing career broken.
A few months later Dominka is recovering though with a ill mother her options are limited. Luckily, or unluckily, her uncle Ivan Vladimirovich Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) who has pull in the government offers her a position of training. The Sparrows are specially trained agents that are masters of getting under the skin of their targets. So begins the question of what are they willing to do for their country and where is the line if there even is one.
Jennifer Laurence is no stranger to an action leading role, with her career being built on Katniss from The Hunger Games. She speaks with a very thick Russian accent, how accurate it is I cannot say but there is not trace of her real American accent which is impressive. Though her focus is in her body movement and subtlety in her face. She starts as someone broken, then thrown into a world that asks her to do things she never thought of doing, and then finally becomes accustomed to her environment. This is reflected in her body-language, and shows the arc of her character.
There are moments in the movie, particularly within the opening sequence where it looks truly ravishing. The Ballet setting is reminiscent of Powell & Pressberger’s The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman. For the opening chunk onward, it becomes less stimulating, still sharply shot but the colors are more muted and setting less memorable. I would guess this is to show the changing from one world into another though it more feels like an unfulfilled promise of a really good looking movie.
Being that this is an American movie and with all the tensions brewing between them and Russia recently it is surprising to have a spy movie that shows the experience from the other side. Ultimately you can guess who is painted as the villain and the noble country in the end but it was refreshing and important to see that there are noble and good people that come from other countries.
The big talking point for this movie will most likely be the violence. There are a few very overt moments of sexual content and savvier harm being inflicted upon the characters. One of the main recipients is Dominika herself, I’m usually quite sensitive about depiction of brutality towards women but here I feel it’s in the right place. Firstly, it’s a brutal spy movie, you should know what your getting within a few minutes, secondly, everyone gets brutality inflicted upon them, there is no beating discrimination going on. So ultimately I feel it’s fair.
Red Sparrow has talent behind and in-front of the camera and does some bolder things that will make it memorable. It is not as clever as it believes itself to be but it avoids being blatantly stupid or misogynistic with plenty of refreshing material to a genre we’ve already seen a lot of so it makes the ride.