May 29, 2018  (Web Review)

Red Sparrow

Fox, 140 min., R, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $34.99, May 22

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

When Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers a devastating injury, the Bolshoi will no longer pay for her Moscow apartment and care for her ailing mother (Joely Richardson). And that’s when lecherous Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency SVR, makes her an offer she cannot refuse: Dominika must entice and betray an oligarch, luring him to her hotel room. What she doesn’t realize is that she will be raped and he will be assassinated. Vanya then tells her that she knows too much and must die if she won’t work full-time for his agency. Dominika is dispatched to State School 4, where the sadistic matron (Charlotte Rampling)—utilizing ritual degradation and humiliation—teaches recruits how to become a “sparrow,” adroit in psychological manipulation and seduction. “You sent me to whore school,” defiant Dominika accuses Vanya. Meanwhile, American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) arrives in Budapest to contact his secret asset, a high-ranking mole within the Russian government. Dominika is sent to earn Nate’s trust and discover the mole’s identity. Based on the titular 2013 bestseller by ex-CIA operative Jason Matthews, and voyeuristically directed by Francis Lawrence (who indulges in far too much brutal, gratuitous violence in the torture sequences), this grim and gruesome espionage thriller is made more palatable by Lawrence’s audacious performance. A strong optional purchase. (S. Granger)