Rated R. Running Time 2 hours 20 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 6; Language 2; Sex 5/ Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
See how they conceive evil,
and are pregnant with mischief,
and bring forth lies.
This spy thriller, much of it set in Russia, will keep you on the edge of your seat, providing you can deal with some of the torture scenes. It gives star Jennifer Lawrence ample opportunity to prove she is an actress capable of expressing a wide range of emotions.
Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) lives a comfortable life with her invalid mother Nina (Joely Richardson), thanks to her ballet career with the Bolshoi Company in Moscow. One fateful night her lead dancer crashes into her leg, breaking it in their fall. Her career crushed as well as her leg, she worries that they will soon have to leave their comfortable quarters. Her uncle, Ivan Egorova (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high-ranking intelligence officer, extends her an offer he thinks she cannot refuse. Her apartment and mother’s medical bills will be met if she agrees to work for him, her first assignment being to lure his enemy Dimitri Ustinov (Kristof Konrad) into a hotel room. When she does, the oligarch begins to rape her, but then a stranger creeps up behind him and strangles him to death. Later she will learn the killer’s name is Simyonov (Sergej Onopko).
Now totally enmeshed in her uncle’s schemes, he makes her agree to enroll in a secret intelligence school, the members of which are known as Sparrows. It is this or face death for being an eyewitness to the murder. She reluctantly travels to the academy situated in the countryside where the ruthless Matron (Charlotte Rampling) teaches espionage skills. The art of seduction is regarded as important as coding or martial arts.
Her training period is cut short when she is dispatched by her uncle and General Vladimir Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) to meet and seduce the American CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). She is to find out the name of his Russian contact, a mole high up in the government. There follows a series of twists and turns in the labyrinthine plot that involves her and the American falling in love, she agreeing to become a double agent, and more, with a steady rise in the body count.
Francis Lawrence, director of the last three “Hunger Games” films, working from a script by Justin Haythe based on former C.I.A. operative Jason Matthews’ novel, keeps things moving along at a swift pace. Just as a strong female was at the center of his past films, so is Dominika’s story the center of his newest work. Her interior journey is that from victim—it seems that her stage “accident” had been planned—and pawn to that of queen, determined to gain some measure of control for her life. In and out of Russia she has to play her role carefully out of concern for her mother’s welfare. Her ruthless Uncle Ivan and General Vladimir Korchnoi thus far have dominated her life because of their overwhelming political power, so she must use her cleverness and seductive skills to not only survive but thrive. Uncle Ivan should have listened more closely when she accusingly told him, “You sent me to whore school!” He might have discerned the hard edge of one determined to even matters between them.
This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2018 issue of Visual Parables.