Prima Ballerina Dominika Egorova is pressured into ‘Sparrow School’, a Russian intelligence service, where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission is targeting an American C.I.A. agent in communications with a Russian traitor who threatens to unravel the security of both nations.
Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) returns with Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I Am Legend), in what I was expecting to be a Salt (Phillip Noyce, Angelina Jolie) meets Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, Charlize Theron) film. I wasn’t disappointed, but the film wasn’t what I thought it would be.
(Warning: May contain spoilers)
I’m just going to say it and get it out of the way now; a Russian spy who’s background is ballet, a secret and intense training program followed by deadly missions full of secrets…is this the Black Widow origin story Marvel fans have been waiting for? While it does seem that way, Francis Lawrence took this film way beyond anything Marvel could have given us. This is not an action film in the sense that there are no Avenger-like city-destroying explosions and it’s not a spy movie with cool gadgets and crazy stunts. It’s a film that focuses on body language, the interactions between characters and the screaming, wordless dialogue.
We spend the entire film constantly questioning Egorova’s every move. Is she lying to her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts, The Danish Girl) and falling for agent Nash’s (Joel Edgerton, The Great Gatsby, Black Mass) promises of protection and freedom? Is she a true Sparrow and seducing the Americans to fulfill her duties to the Motherland? Or is she playing the Russians and betraying her country? When she discovers the truth and secrets are revealed, will she follow through with General Korchnoi’s orders (Jeremy Irons, Dead Ringers, The Lion King), make plans with the C.I.A., or is she going to go rogue?
The entire film is a game of cat and mouse; Americans chasing Russians, Russians hunting traitors, Egorova fighting her inner beast of venery and the viewers’ desperate attempt to catch up to Egorova. I was skeptic at first, all this tail chasing left me a little lost at times and some scenes felt so out of left field that I wasn’t sure it was working. They felt long, boring and just unneeded. It felt as though acts one and two were just the intro. I kept waiting for it to start; until the end. Pure M. Night Shyamalan gold. It tied up the whole movie in a sick and twisted, dark, beautiful bow. Francis Lawrence may have out twisted the master. The movie ended and I immediately wanted to rewatch it; boring scenes now felt like they held so much more than what I saw on the surface.
Putting aside the fact that I don’t enjoy movies with accents (much rather watch the movie in Russian with subtitles but that’s another post for another day) Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian accent was believable and she kept it throughout the film. If she ever dropped it, I never noticed. She kicked off the film with a beautiful yet brutal scene. A raw and true representation of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorn”. Her performance takes viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions. You feel her heartbreak when her Bolshoi ballet partner pulls a Tonya Harding; you feel her hate for her uncle when he forces her into Sparrow training; you’re scared with her when she’s getting tortured for information and you feel yourself wanting, longing and loving the idea of Egorova escaping to the US and being free where no one can touch her or her mother. Even though you feel everything she feels, you never see the end coming. While some might be able to figure out what Egorova’s final move is, the surprise twist comes from backtracking through the film and finding pieces that you missed that create such an intricate, dark puzzle.
The rape scenes were both unnecessarily disturbing and absolutely brilliant. While I did not care for it and feel as though rape can easily be a part of a story without having to show the audience, it was brilliantly shot. As the viewer, you became the victim with Egorova. You were terrified, vulnerable and you tried to separate yourself from what was really happening. You craved a distraction and you braced yourself when you realized you couldn’t fight it. You’ve been overpowered and all you can do is wait for it to be over (which didn’t happen fast enough). Although I respect and love when a movie is able to manipulate my emotions to how they see fit, there were moments where I questioned some of the more gory and brutal scenes; just over the top and there to get that ‘R rating’.
Overall I truly enjoyed the film. While I might skip over the rape scenes (one time was enough), I recommend it and I hope Francis Lawrence does a second Sparrow movie because my gut tells me that Egorova’s manipulative scheming and seducing is far from being over.