New to On Demand: Red Sparrow

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New To On Demand: Red Sparrow By Stephen Whitty

The name is Bond. Jane Bond.

Jennifer Lawrence is a super-secret agent in Red Sparrow, and her mission is simple — worm her way into an enemy spy’s affections and find out who’s feeding him info.

Except — here’s the twist — she is working for the Russians. And her best secret weapon isn’t an ejector seat or killer briefcase but her own irresistible sexuality.

Oh, and here’s one more twist: She might actually be working for the Americans instead, or, also. Or not at all.

Red Sparrow is a wild movie which pushes a lot of things pretty far — frank sex, graphic violence. Yet it also roots its story in real, ongoing issues — violence against women, workplace harassment, Russian duplicity.

Lawrence is Dominika, a ballerina whose career abruptly ended long before her family obligations did. So her creepy Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) suggests she work for him as a “sparrow” — a sexy bit of bait to trap Russian businessmen and American agents.

Dominika agrees and goes through a boot camp that makes the one in From Russia With Love look like a Cub Scout meeting. And then she receives her first big assignment — get close to CIA man Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton) and find out who he’s got working for him in the Kremlin.

But does Dominika have her own agenda, too?

Red Sparrow is an entertaining mix of old stories and new style. At times, it feels like Cold War propaganda, with grim Russians yelling about the decadent West. And then it gets startlingly modern — particularly in the way Lawrence completely owns, and uses, her own, unabashed sexuality.

She’s nobody’s victim here. She’s the victor.

And even when she’s going it alone as an agent, she has a lot of support as an actress, with a great cast that ranges from Jeremy Irons as an old Russian general to Mary-Louise Parker as an ethically challenged American official to the icy-eyed Charlotte Rampling as a sadistic spymaster.

Red Sparrow isn’t a tongue-in-cheek comic-book movie like Atomic Blonde or Salt; it can be brutal and even ugly. (Get ready to hide your eyes during the big torture scene.) But director Francis Lawrence knows how to play things just to the edge, and then pull back before he goes too far.

After a couple of movie misfires, it’s a great comeback for Lawrence. And the best spy film we’ve had in a while.

Red Sparrow is available On Demand beginning May 22. Check your cable system for availability.