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Movie Night – ‘Red Sparrow’ almost reaches status of great spy movie

By Bradley Griffith

For the first time the latest espionage caper and the latest Jennifer Lawrence movie are one and the same. “Red Sparrow” is out to prove that the cold war between the United States and Russia not only never died, but is more intense than ever. The movie is good, but for the best source of entertainment on this subject you should read the book.

Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is a CIA agent operating in Moscow. He’s running an undercover agent deep in the Russian government known by the code name Marble. Marble will only meet with Nate. On a cold, snowy night in Moscow an exchange between Nate and Marble is witnessed by the police. Nate creates a diversion that allows Marble to escape with his identity unknown to the Russians.

Dominka Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a talented and famous ballerina dancing for the Bolshoi Company in Moscow. Dominika takes care of her ailing mother in a run-down apartment owned and provided by the Bolshoi. Dominka’s world comes to a crushing halt when she suffers a devastating knee injury that requires surgery and ends her dancing career.

To keep her apartment and a part-time nurse for her mother, Dominika agrees to do a job for her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), a deputy director of the Russian intelligence service known as the SVR. Dominka is to befriend a prominent businessman and replace his phone with a duplicate. After Dominika sees too much on this mission she is given a choice, die or attend Sparrow School.

Sparrow School is a top-secret school where young men and women are taught to use their bodies as weapons. They are taught to give their targets whatever it is that they desire, and then take everything from them. They are taught to seduce, collect information, and kill if necessary. They are taught to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is necessary, to get the job done.

Nate is sent to Budapest, Hungary to attempt to re-establish contact with Marble. The Russians counter by sending Dominika to Budapest to seduce Nate and determine the identity of Marble.

The story of “Red Sparrow” is the best thing about the movie. Who doesn’t love a cold-war tale of a female Russian agent trying to seduce and manipulate a male American agent? Nate knows exactly what Dominika is trying to do, but he still doesn’t know if he can resist. His focus is on trying to turn Dominka, to make her a double agent for the United States. It’s a fantastic chess match and it keeps you guessing until the end.

Two terrific actors (Lawrence and Edgerton) played the lead roles with great supporting actors such as Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons. Some movie critics have criticized Jennifer Lawrence for her Russian accent. I noticed nothing wrong with her accent and, even if I had, would take a bad Russian accent any day over half of the movie being spoken in Russian with subtitles. More interesting to me was the transformation of Lawrence’s character during Sparrow School and after when she begins to chase Nate in earnest.

“Red Sparrow,” based solely on the subject matter and the intent of the training at the Sparrow School is explicit at times. The book (the first in a trilogy) was written by a former CIA officer, which lends a level of credence and believability to the movie that James Bond movies simply don’t have. You can actually envision the events in the movie actually taking place.

“Red Sparrow” was a good movie. In fact, it was on the razor’s edge of being an all-time great spy movie. For whatever reason, the film couldn’t quite make the leap into legendary status.  “Red Sparrow” is engrossing and entertaining, but not the truly amazing film it could have been.  Still, I am hoping for a sequel.

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Grade: B+

Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.