Jennifer Lawrence has become a mega-star, and while at 27 she is still too inexperienced to be the next Meryl Streep (could anyone really be as good as Streep?) she is ever versatile, constantly changing the kinds of roles she picks, pushing her boundaries in a way that is impressive, and the trait of a truly great artist. Occasionally she misses, like in 2017’s truly awful Mother!
– a shamefully indulgent piece of exploitative cinema by the usually sensitive Darren Aronofsky. But her willingness to work for an unconventional film-maker like him shows the grit that she first exhibited in her break-through role in Deborah Granik’s intense thriller Winter’s Bone (2010), a film to find and watch if you have not seen it yet.
Seven years later, Lawrence is capable of commanding films that are vehicles for her talent, underscoring her riveting presence onscreen. With Francis Lawrence’s ambitious Red Sparrow this actress shows that she can play a number of different aspects of a character without the showiness that can be annoying in the likes of the Johnny Depps and the Leonardo DiCaprios who insist on calling attention to their apparently multitudinous talent.
Red Sparrow itself is a paced, classic thriller with a streak of violence. Using the current cold war with Russia as a premise, the film tells the story of a prima ballerina, Dominika Egerova (Lawrence), who loses her dream of dancing after a terrible injury onstage. Used by the state who wields her ailing mother (the great Joely Richardson) over her head, Dominika ends up joining the ‘Sparrow’ program, a noxious, wholly unethical exercise designed to turn men and women into proverbial ‘honey pots’, but much worse, teaching them skills of manipulation that are both humiliating and deeply damaging to both executor and recipient.
Dominika excels, she is tough and smart, and her survival skills take her through a series of ordeals and missions that bring her in close contact with other devious Sparrows, a handsome CIA agent, Nick Nash (Joel Edgerton), and a corrupt US bureaucrat.
The film takes its time, so those who expect the adrenaline pumping of an Atomic Blonde (2017) kind of film will perhaps be disappointed. But this story, based on the 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, is actually a first rate thriller, albeit, to those who are attuned to the inherent sexism in Hollywood, pretty skewed in terms of its exploitative tendencies under the pseudo-guise of empowerment.
Luckily, aside from a few misguided moments, this does not last, and Dominika compels the viewer and the characters within the narrative like the star that she is.
Laced with a strong cast including the legendary Jeremy Irons and the immensely talented Matthias Schoenaerts, Red Sparrow stayed in my mind long after it ended, creating a nostalgia for its world, and the characters in it. I wanted to know more about what happens to them next, I ended up caring deeply about their lives. I would say that is the trait of a good film.