Based on the best-selling book by ex-CIA operative Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is a darkly sexual spy thriller chock-full of graphic nudity and violence. It follows Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), a Russian ballerina whose career is ended by injury. Desperate for money to pay her sickly mother’s medical bills, she agrees to help her agent uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) out on a small job, but it doesn’t go well. Accidentally witness to a brutal murder, Dominika is forced into ‘Sparrow School’ – a secret service programme that teaches recruits how to seduce the enemy into submission. Her first assignment: to get close to an American agent (Joel Edgerton) and extract the identity of a mole buried deep in the Russian government.
Surprisingly, this is a bit of a misstep from Lawrence. Her performance is fine, but the Russian accent is awful and the movie strangely mismatched: one moment we’re witnessing a brutal rape scene; the next Dominika’s trading putdowns with a comically drunk US senator’s aide in Claridges. It’s like watching two competing movies at once – the campy spy cliché versus the gritty, modern epic. Occasionally, director Francis Lawrence (the Hunger Games series) does get it right – there are some beautiful panoramic vistas and the action sequences are spine-tingling. But for the most part, this is a patchy adaptation of a gripping novel.