Intriguing and intricate, Red Sparrow is well-crafted and different from today’s spy thrillers

Published: March 5, 2018

Apart from the performances though, the film also happens to be gorgeous, purely from an aesthetic perspective. PHOTO: IMDB

There’s no denying that in recent decades, the spy film genre in Hollywood has shifted drastically towards the slick, fast-paced and action-heavy fare of films, like Casino RoyaleThe Bourne UltimatumMission Impossible: Rogue Nation and the most recent Kingsman movies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, since these are all films that have represented the very best of the spy genre as well as the action genre in the past decade. But in the 70s and 80s, spy films had a very different look and feel, and were perhaps more interested in the boiler-pot suspense and intrigue rather than the action and slickness.

Red Sparrow, the latest film from Director Francis Lawrence – whose resume includes the first three Hunger Games movies –  feels like a film very much in the spirit of those spy films.

Based on the book by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow follows the story of Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a prima ballerina whose life gets a stark reality check when a career-threatening injury effectively ends her dancing career. She is then forced to seek a new avenue to support her ailing mother.

By the coercion of her shady and powerful uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) though, she turns to the Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains young Russians to use their minds and bodies as weapons. After completing the sadistic training process, Dominika emerges as the program’s most dangerous graduate and is immediately tasked with targeting a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton), who threatens to unravel the security of both the United States and Russia.

Red Sparrow relies on its deliberate pacing and intricate plotting to flesh out its story, and for the most part, it works. This is a film of quite a few twists and turns and it demands the audience to follow through its many plot machinations with full attention. And while it definitely can get a tad boring at times, it’s also quite enthralling and the steady build-up of suspense and intrigue makes it a rewarding experience by the end.

A great deal of the film actually relies on Jennifer Lawrence, and while this isn’t exactly one of her best performances, she still manages to give a really compelling and brave performance playing a role that’s very much against her usual ones. She plays the role of Dominika with a lot of coldness but still manages to make the character come across as an undeniably cunning, intelligent and resourceful person, which I think is precisely the aim here.

Her chemistry with Edgerton’s Nate Nash is also very good and really the crux of the film. As far as the rest of the performances are concerned, Edgerton as the CIA operative Nate, Charlotte Rampling as the patriarchal headmistress and Jeremy Irons as the steely-eyed Russian general, all manage to stand out in their own unique ways.

Apart from the performances though, the film also happens to be gorgeous, purely from an aesthetic perspective. Cinematographer Jo Willems manages to create a really rich sense of atmosphere, while James Newton Howard’s ominous original score lends the film some of its best moments aswell as a real sense of grandiose.

But as engrossing as this film is for the most part, the 141-minute runtime definitely overstays its welcome and your patience begins to wear thin by the end. Moreover, since the film doesn’t have any major set pieces to grab the audience’s attention, it has to rely solely on the story and the performances to do that, which is something the film isn’t always able to do.

Keeping that aside though, Red Sparrow is very engrossing and a well-crafted espionage thriller that also happens to be a welcome change of pace from the spy films we are generally used to seeing these days. It’s actually very much in the vein of the John le Carré style spy films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy more than anything else, especially in regards to its intricate plotting and how it embraces its graphic elements of violence and sex more than most mainstream blockbusters these days. I think it’s bound to frustrate a number of viewers but if they give it a chance, they might find it to be a rewarding and captivating viewing.

All photos: IMDb

Khalid Rafi

Khalid Rafi

The author enjoys writing and is passionate about Pakistan Cricket. He tweets @TheKhalidRafi (

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