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23 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow

In the elegantly tense and absorbing Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence portrays a Russian spy who’s a cunningly desperate human being — or, at least, enough of one that each scene rotates around the choices she makes, the way she appraises and seizes the destiny of the moment, playing a spy as someone who acts out a role, but does so by acting as little as possible. Directed by Francis Lawrence, working from a script by Justin Haythe (based on the 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, a former CIA operative) that taps the audience’s intelligence rather than insulting it, Red Sparrow presents Lawrence’s character, Dominika Egorova, as a victim who is cast into a state of peril she has to dig her way out of, one sinister chess move at a time. She starts off as a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet, dancing before the glitterati of Moscow in a costume of resplendent red and gold. But her career is cut short by a horrific on-stage collision. It’s here that she confronts what it means to be a pawn in the ruthless new Russian state.

To Western eyes, Dominika lives in a very modest flat, which she shares with her emotionally vital but infirm mother (Joely Richardson), whom she’s devoted herself to taking care of. But as soon as her dancing days end, she learns that she’s going to be stripped of her health insurance, her mother’s part-time nurse, and the apartment. It’s a dread-ridden slipping-out-of-the-middle-class scenario, and it spurs her to take up the offer of her uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), who happens to be the deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency, the SVR. He will keep her afloat, as long as she agrees to carry out a mission.

Red Sparrow kicks off with what feels like a Hitchcock climax, crosscutting between Dominika’s calamity at the Bolshoi and the rendezvous-gone-awry of an American CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), whose meeting with his mole, in Gorky Park, gets interrupted by narcotics cops. But the movie is more up-to-the-minute than it looks.  

Dominika’s mission is to meet a shady businessman in a gilded hotel room. She winds up witnessing a murder, which means that she herself will be eliminated unless she agrees to become a recruit at State School 4, a training ground for what are known as the Sparrows. The way the film presents them, they are undercover agents from hell.

Red Sparrow is actually about a heroine who has had her choices cut off by a thug patriarchy. The training school, run by the ultimate icy headmistress, played by Charlotte Rampling, amounts to a series of encounter sessions in which the recruits are stripped down in every possible way. They’re reduced to being utensils, which they learn to manipulate.

Dominika is sent to Budapest to have a ‘chance’ encounter with Nash, which she does at a public swimming pool, so that she can discover who the mole is. We brace ourselves for a cliché: the tale of two spies who swoon for each other — and who, by the way, is using whom? But Red Sparrow is an espionage thriller that’s cleverer than it first looks. It’s driven by a romantic spark, but Dominika and Nash quickly figure out everything there is to know about each other. And since their relationship isn’t rooted in callow illusions, the film keeps you guessing as to what’s at stake.

The basic set-up is simple (will Dominika sniff out the mole?), but Red Sparrow has enough tangles and reversals to be a fully satisfying night out. It’s more talk than action, and that’s a good thing. At one point, Dominika joins forces with the Americans, leading to the film’s most suspenseful sequence, which features Mary-Louise Parker as a neurotic lush who’s the turncoat chief of staff for a US senator.

Lawrence, with regal cheekbones and voluptuous bangs, has a great Slavic look, and eases into the soul of playing a Russian. She does it with an unobtrusive accent, though you wish the rest of the cast had followed suit. Jeremy Irons, as a Russian general, doesn’t even try for the accent. Schoenaerts does, and acts with a swinish glee.

For the first time in a long while, a thriller revives Cold War tensions in a way that doesn’t feel corny, since the Russians, in Red Sparrow, are standing in for the new world order: a global marketplace of people selling themselves. It’s no wonder spying is trickier than ever.

Source: variety.com


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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