Red Sparrow: Russian Spies and Communism in the Eyes of Americans

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Ah spy movies, another one of my favorite kind of things to watch. You'd think it's fun to be one but no, it's better to watch than actually live the lives they live. Why? Read on to know what I think of the movie and spies in general. 

Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead

Now, let's start with the cast, then the trailer and synopsis of this movie before we go into the review. 



(Screencap by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


♦     The Cast     ♦

Here are some of the cast members in the film.

◙ Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova

She is a former star ballerina who is recruited as a sparrow for the Russian intelligence agency (SVR).


◙ Joel Edgerton plays Nate Nash

He is a CIA agent who has an SVR mole. He also recruits Dominika to be a double agent.


◙ Matthias Schoenaerts plays Ivan Vladimirovich Egorov

Dominika's uncle, a deputy director of the SVR.


◙ Jeremy Irons plays Gen.Vladimir Andreievich Korchnoi

He is the person people are looking for. Also works for the SVR.




♦     The Trailer     ♦

This isn't the trailer I've seen before watching Red Sparrow but it pretty much sums up what the movie is about.

(Video credit: Francis_Lawrence via Bitlanders)




♦     Synopsis     ♦

Dominika Egorova is a famous Russian ballerina however during one of her performances her leg got broken. Even after the operation, her lucrative career still ended. Without a good paying job she would not be able to support her ailing mother anymore.

jennifer_lawrence(Screencap by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


Her uncle, a high official of the Russian intelligence, tells her who is responsible for the end of her ballerina life. When she finds out an envious colleague and her lover caused her injury she hurts them both with her walking cane and then reports the "accident". She then agrees to her uncle's proposal to spy for him and the government. From there it snowballs to her being trained and becoming a real Sparrow or Russian government agent.

Her next mission is to find out who the CIA agent Nate Nash is protecting. The Russian intelligence finds out Nash has a mole working with him. During the course of her coaxing it out of him, she almost gets caught, gets tortured but eventually she turns the table on everyone. She frames her uncle into being the mole and she gets awarded for her exceptional service to the Russian government.

spy_movies(Screencap by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)




♦     ArtGirl's Review     ♦

Growing up, I enjoyed reading detective novels like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. I like spy stories too and so this was good enough to watch at home.

The best TV spy show for me is Alias which also has a strong female protagonist. Of course Red Sparrow is very different from the TV show but still enjoyable to watch nonetheless.


◙ Characters & Story

The story is of course unique in a sense they had a sleazy uncle send her beautiful but forcefully retired star ballet dancer niece to a "whore house" school. We get a sense that in Russia, anyone will be used as a spy for their country. You do not own your life, the state owns it and will use it as needed. That is basically what Communism is about. Everything belongs to everybody, you do not own anything for yourself. This is different from a Democracy or Federalist government where people can be whoever they supposedly want to be. Everyone can own whatever they work hard for and buy, with no government or organization claiming it for the good of the general public. In this film version of Russia, we see how Communism works. 

red_sparrow(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


In the film, Dominika is caught in the "web" of being a Russian Communist patriot as opposed to being free to do what she wants for herself and her mother. The line between patriotism and communism gets mixed and can get blurry when stories like this are involved. She can be considered selfish for wanting a better life for her and her ailing mother without having to serve or be fully used by the government.

The lead character has a revenge motive against her uncle too. It may have all started with a jealous ballerina's actions but who knows if even that dancer was enticed by her uncle to damage Dominika's career. We of course cannot know but based on how the story went, I suppose it is not far off. 

hollywood_spy_movie(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


Of course she cannot do everything on her own so help from other people is essential for her to be the best agent she could be. Her job is kind of scary and exhilarating at the same time.

This is what makes spy films thrilling: We see all the secrecy, the lies and manipulative things that happen behind the curtain that we don't expect. I despise manipulative people however spies supposedly do it for the good of the country or the general public. On the other hand, criminals and bad people do it for purely selfish reasons. What difference does it make? It is still manipulation and it never feels good to be on the receiving end of it.

In the movie, we see Dominika as a strong and independent woman mainly because she is smart and can hold herself against the people who manipulate her. Yes, that is pretty empowering but her work is also very dangerous. One small move and her life can be over in a flash. Imagine a Damocles sword hanging over your head every single day, would that not make you a strong person? Never mind if you are a man or a woman, being in a situation like that will most likely make you a person of strong conviction. 

2018_spy_thriller(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


She needs to be able to withstand any challenge because her situation needs her to be courageous and smart. If she did not have her sick mother as a reason to persevere then she would not be a very good spy at all. This is why her uncle had a very firm hold on her. Manipulators use your weaknesses to get what they want, use you to their advantage even at the cost of your life. Her conviction to provide a better life for her parent makes her someone who could stand against everyone who goes against her financial gain and her mom's health security. This is what makes her an exceptional Russian intelligence agent and an admirable woman. 

Everything in the film makes the story characters well developed and well thought of because they can be relatable. Why not when the book it is based on was written by a retired CIA operative, Jason Matthews. (As cliche as it may sound, of course a spy will always be a spy, even a retired one.) So it's good at least through stories like this we get a glimpse of how their lives are. Anyone thinking of becoming a spy because of the glamour or thrill associated with it better think twice. 

film_about_russian_spy(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


Red Sparrow is a woman's story, her life and struggles with being a "reluctant" secret agent who has to play mind games with everyone in order to keep her and her mom comfortable and secure. Again, if you look at it, it may seem like a patriotic movie but she clearly does things for selfish reasons too. We all do things for ourselves anyway, for ourselves and those we love.

The film is not really a romantic love story but it does have a sprinkle of it. Don't keep your hopes up on their love being true because in the spy world, even "true love" can be manipulated and trodden upon for the sake of using that person. Just watch any other non-comedy spy film. 

cia_vs_svr(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


Love and sex can be a very strong motivator too and clearly anyone working for the government or crime syndicates would not shy away from using it as a tool instead of keeping it pure. If you personally know of any spy, guerilla, communist, activist or even criminal then you would know why they are cynics and individuals you should not mess with.

All in all I think the story and the characters deserve a perfect 10 stars for its complexity even if it may seem simple or unremarkable to those with little sense of paranoia.

Also, I'm sure the author has plenty more spy stories he could share with us. He has a follow up novel to Red Sparrow but no news yet if it's going to be another movie soon.



◙ Acting

Well what can we expect from Acadamy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence in this movie? She mostly plays women with a strong personality thus this is definitely perfect for her. As a Russian spy I commend her acting, J.Law totally becomes such a motivated bombshell on screen even if her character started off as an innocent girl.


(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


Her co-actors also did a great job in portraying the roles they played. Jeremy Irons, another Academy Award winner also deserves to be commended on how he played his role. I remember his German villain role in Die Hard with a Vengeance and that was fun to watch too. His acting is not similar to that movie but of course it is still exceptionally low key and effective.

Joel Edgerton clearly got his big Hollywood break as a lead actor alongside Jennifer Lawrence. At least they had onscreen chemistry so it made the film easy to watch.


◙ Cinematography, Production Design & Music

From the wonderful costumes and classical music to the drab "real world" outfits, each piece fits the movie perfectly. I was not overly blown away by the production design but the musical pieces will always be something to appreciate. It is all very appropriate for the needs of the movie.

We get to see the opulence of those with money and power, the lavish hotels and rooms and gold embellished offices. Some even reminded me of old English royalties or the Rococo era.

Each scenery is also just right for what needs to be portrayed. We get to see how cold Russia can be, not only because of their weather but also how they treat their spies and people. But of course bear in mind, it is a film not a documentary, thus everything is carefully constructed and created to give us a thrilling story for our entertainment.

book_to_movie_adaptation(Screencap Image by ArtGirl, credit: FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras via YouTube)


What's funny though is there is a scene which will remind you of The Hunger Games reaping. It's possibly in homage to it because the film director is the same one who directed three of the said film series' movies. Seeing it would probably make you want to watch Katniss Everdeen with Peeta again. Lol.


◙ Rating

Overall I wasn't really wowed by everything but the storytelling and acting is commendable. Not much action or superb visuals going on but they have an appropriate set and design worth seeing.

I give this movie a 9 out of 10 stars mainly because I'm not completely blown away by it but it is an exceptional spy movie nonetheless.


* * * * * * * * * * *


Want more? Here's a short interview with the lead actors and the director.

(Video credit: Harkins Theatres via YouTube)



For my other movie reviews and related blogs, click below:





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