This was not the film I was expecting, but the one I deserved. I had entered the screening room guessing at a female equivalent of James Bond, with its lead Jennifer Lawrence mixing fantasy and stupid violence. Instead, what I got for my assumptions was the channelling of John le Carre's brutalist Cold War vibe, of torture, double-cross, and a desolate humanity. Jennifer Lawrence is mesmeric in the lead role, her lithe, athletic frame swirling through cold-weather, Cold-War locations as a former prima-ballerina turned spy. Like the starting location, she is Russian; tough, proud and pragmatic, she balances simmering fury at the way her ballet career ended with an increasingly cool and calculating mind.
The John le Carre style is worth noting; Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy (2011) was a lauded representation of patriarchy in a decaying, corrupted form. Lawrence's Dominika Egorova is the twist on the genre, the female who strides into this world, attempting to manipulate its pieces to her own needs.
Lawrence's is not the only standout performance. Joel Edgerton is a confident, sympathetic American spy, a possible love interest trying to protect his Moscow contact. Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling bring a fragile, take-no-bullshit gravitas, while Matthias Schoenarts is Lawrence's ambiguous, supportive, manipulating uncle. An actress I wish had had more screen time is Mary-Louise Parker as the corrupt, alcoholic agent; her unravelling is one of the film's more humane moments.Because humanity is a quality that only flickers in Red Sparrow. Several scenes are graphic; James-Bond torture, of quips and laughter, have no place here. Some of the torture especially is shocking and not for the faint-hearted. As such, Red Sparrow is a curious, edgy mixture of the aesthetically sumptuous – Jennifer Lawrence has seldom looked more glamorous, nor Moscow's opera houses so gilded – with the darkest recesses of human possibilities. Watch it for its positioning of a female protagonist at the core of a traditionally ugly, all-male world, but be prepared for the horrors that accompany.