Birds of a Feather Stalk Together
Colorful spy thriller "Red Sparrow" is the story of Dominica (Jennifer Lawrence, "mother!"), a ballerina whose career is cut short by injury. Needing to care for her infirmed mother, Dominica is recruited by her Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts, "The Danish Girl") to become a Sparrow, one of a particular group of spies for the Russian state that identify a target's psychological needs and fill the gap in order to gain the information they need. Dominica is quickly assigned to follow Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton, "It Comes at Night"), a CIA operative who is known to be the handler for a high level spy within the Russian spy agency.
Though she's been guilty of occasionally chewing the scenery in the past, the beauty in Lawrence's performance here is its subtlety. Dominica is constantly put into extremely emotional and even degrading situations, and time and again Lawrence navigates these scenes with a look or posture that would have been ruined in lesser hands. Her battle of wills with Matron (Charlotte Rampling, "Assassin's Creed"), the gelid headmistress of the Sparrow training school, are among the most compelling scenes in the movie. The contempt these characters feel for each other almost stands as its own character when they share the screen.
Nash is equally well portrayed by Edgerton; he embodies an America with a clear-cut moral structure that knows no compromise. There is no doubt that his character wants his sources for the information they can provide, but equally as strong is his sense of responsibility and connection to them. He is a CIA operative who would give himself up if it meant that his sources would remain unharmed. As with Lawrence, Edgerton presents his character in an understated way, letting gestures and looks communicate Nash's feelings and only moving into exaggerated action when the scene calls for it. Also worthy of mention are "Sparrow's" secondary characters: Jeremey Irons's ("High Rise") portrayal of General Vladimir Korchnoi is believable, Schoenaerts is exceedingly creepy and remorseless as Vanya, and Rampling as Matron could give you nightmares.
Without these adept performances, the script would not have gone far, as it is formulaic and takes large logical leaps. It may be baffling to even the most enthusiastic of viewers why Dominica is given such an important assignment without any previous experience and without finishing her training. Ultimately, the most impressive feat of the script is not that it illuminates the world of spy craft and geo-political intrigue, but rather that it takes a head on approach to addressing patriarchal society, showing Dominica consistently moving from one man controlling her life to another and how she challenges this.
Character driven and beautifully shot, "Red Sparrow" is worth your time.