When Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers a devastating injury, the Bolshoi will no longer pay for her Moscow apartment and care for her ailing mother (Joely Richardson). That’s when her lecherous Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency SVR, makes her an offer she cannot refuse.
Her first assignment is to entice and betray an oligarch, luring him to her hotel room. What she doesn’t realize is that she’ll be raped and he’ll be assassinated. Ivan then tells her she knows too much and will be killed if she doesn’t work full-time for his agency.
She’s then referred to State School 4, where the sadistic Matron (Charlotte Rampling), utilizing ritual degradation and humiliation, teaches male and female recruits how to become a “sparrow,” adroit in psychological manipulation and seduction.
“You sent me to whore school,” defiant Dominika accuses Uncle Vanya, who looks alarmingly like Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is sent to Budapest to contact his secret asset, a high-ranking mole within the Russian government, code-named “Marble.” Steely, highly disciplined Dominika is dispatched there to weave a web of deception, earning his trust and discovering the mole’s identity.
Bearing tinges of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” along with “Atomic Blonde,” it’s confusingly scripted by Justin Haythe, based on the 2013 best-seller by ex-CIA operative Jason Matthews, and voyeuristically directed by Francis Lawrence (“Hunger Games” franchise), who indulges in far too much brutal, gratuitous violence in the torture sequences.
Grim and gruesome, it’s nevertheless made palatable by fearless Jennifer Lawrence’s audacious performance, plus stalwart support from Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds and Mary-Louise Parker.
FYI: Jennifer Lawrence’s coach was Kurt Froman, the former New York City ballet dancer who worked with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis on “Black Swan.” While you see Ms. Lawrence’s face and upper body, the American Ballet Theater’s Isabella Boylston serves as her dance double.
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On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Red Sparrow” is a skewed 7, an exploitative espionage thriller.