By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Francis Lawrence, the director of Hunger Games installments Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Parts 1 & 2  has been tapped to take on a spy thriller/drama and does so with confidence, style and intensity.  With a screenplay by Justin Haythe, Lawrence and Haythe adapt Jason Matthews’s novel Red Sparrow and have made a compelling and thrilling film with an impressive turn by Jennifer Lawrence in the title role.  Though the film doesn’t have the exciting action sequences of Atomic Blonde or the Bourne Series, Sparrow makes up for this with a smart and sly story that offers plenty of gleeful surprises.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a talented Russian ballerina who, through a cruel twist of fate ends up working as a spy for her nation.  After an unexpected tragic end to her career as a dancer Dominika reluctantly volunteers to help her government official uncle Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) with a special secret mission.  After the mission goes horribly wrong, she is forced to join the “Sparrow School” where she will train to be an undercover secret agent.  Things get even more complicated when, on her mission, Dominika falls in love with the American agent (Joel Edgerton) she is tasked with intercepting.  

Though the movie does run on a tad too long and drags in a few moments, I was mostly engrossed with this spy drama, that has lots of tension and suspense and some truly gruesome and intense violence.  Francis Lawrence’s first entry in the spy flick is definitely a winner, as the director gives his audience an awesome mixture of slick styling, gritty reality, and a tone that ranges between coolness and infernal temperatures.  The story by Matthews and Haythe doesn’t disappoint as it goes to some unexpected places and actually does so in some smart ways.

The cast doesn’t disappoint either with Jennifer Lawrence credibly portraying a Russian ballerina-turned-spy who knows when and how to act cool, but can express a genuine vulnerability behind the scenes.  Joel Edgerton does a great job as American spy Nate Nash, a charming and intelligent agent who also must fight his feelings for Dominika.  Matthias Schoenaerts offers an excellent turn as the skeevy and duplicitous Uncle Vanya who wants to use Dominika’s skills for his own selfish ambitions.  The film also features some fantastic performances and appearances by Charlotte Rampling, Mary Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Jeremy Irons, Thekla Reuten, and Sebastian Hülk.

Now, I know some spy movie fans who are more accustomed to insane action sequences might possibly get a little bored watching this film, but this movie plays out more like deliberate moves in a chess game.  Those looking for a more intelligent, but still visceral type of espionage thriller will definitely enjoy Red Sparrow. I sincerely hope it will the launch of a new and exciting movie franchise.

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