Jennifer Lawrence captivates in an unconventional espionage thriller
Jennifer Lawrence reteams with her Hunger Games helmer Francis Lawrence (no relation) for a cold-blooded espionage picture that makes intriguing use of her screen persona. As a thriller, it's not entirely successful, but compensates by being significantly darker and weirder than your average studio film.
Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a beautiful Bolshoi ballerina forced to attend 'Sparrow School' by her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) after her career is cut short. Under the tutelage of Charlotte Rampling's Matron, Dominika learns to use her body as a weapon and is soon sent on an important mission: to seduce American intelligence agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and learn the identity of a mole within the Russian Secret Service.
Despite surface similarities to the likes of Atomic Blonde and Salt, this is not an action vehicle, but rather a dialogue-heavy spy story closer in tone to TV's The Americans. Effective tension is generated from the fact that Dominika's actions are consistently unpredictable, so you never quite know what she's up to.
Decidedly perverse in places, Red Sparrow constantly threatens to tip into ridiculousness (Rampling's teaching methods will certainly raise an eyebrow or two), yet it's played entirely straight throughout. It's also surprisingly downbeat and can be genuinely nasty, with scenes of graphic rape and torture, as well as a provocative and deliberately uncomfortable nude scene from Lawrence.
Exuding charisma that even a patchy Russian accent can't diminish, Lawrence delivers a complex, finely balanced performance where she's both victim and aggressor, steely and vulnerable at the same time. Although she undoubtedly steals the show, Edgerton is engaging as Nash and there's strong support from the likes of Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Mary-Louise Parker (as a corrupt senator).
The story doesn't grip quite as tightly as it should – it's hard to care who the mole is, for example – but the topicality (it taps into both Putin's Russia and Weinstein-esque encounters) gives it an extra edge, while the 140-minute running time is comfortably sustained by Lawrence's star power alone.
General release from Thu 1 Mar.