Director Francis Lawrence — who helmed three "Hunger Games" movies, the cultish "Constantine," the inadvertently silly "I Am Legend," plus a slew of music videos for the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears — puts his flair for eyeball-grabbing imagery to advantage in this John LeCarré-meets-Alfred Hitchcock espionage thriller seasoned with rough violence and sexual intrigue.
The story concerns a beautiful Russian ballet dancer, whose glowing talent helps pay for her ailing mother's (Joely Richardson) healthcare. The carefully cultivated world of Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) comes crashing down when an accident on-stage ends her career and throws her and her mother's future into limbo, that is, until she is contacted by her uncle Vanya Egorova (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is a Russian intelligence official.
Suffice it to say, Dominika winds up recruited to become a Russian intelligence agent in a mission to attract the attentions of an American CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), and to discover the identity of a mole that has been providing Russian secrets to the Americans. How she gets there is a long, winding and dangerous path that involves her being trained at a special facility after which she will be known as a "sparrow."
Director Lawrence, working from a script by Justin Haythe that is based on a 2013 novel by retired CIA operative Jason Matthews, peppers his film with fairly conspicuous commentaries on U.S. and Russian relations, both undercover and under-the-covers. A matron (Charlotte Rampling), for instance, comments on the differences between east and west by saying the U.S. was once strong but has become weak because of distractions, such as social media. She says, "The Cold War did not end. It merely shattered into a thousand pieces."
The "sparrows" are highly trained agents adept at using deception and seduction to gain the deepest confidence of their targets. They are schooled to turn on "love" at will. Although Dominika has problems with some aspects of her "training," she manages to be considered a highly skilled agent and is assigned to Nash, who is in charge of maintaining secret assets in Russia.
If anyone would know the identity of the mole, it would be Nash. Now, it's up to Dominika to get him to let down his guard and reveal his name.
It must be noted that Dominika is being handled mostly out-of-sight by her uncle Vanya and he, in turn, is being directed by Russian intelligence officers whose ruthless demand for allegiance includes torture and murder. But then, if you're a fan of this genre, that's what you'd expect.
As the lead, Jennifer Lawrence is credible and extremely proficient at portraying a woman whose external expressions of calculated interest are fascinating to watch throughout, especially since we know she is also masking motives so ulterior we wonder at times if her character has become seduced by the needs of her mission. But, there's much more, and it will pay the viewer to watch carefully. Director Lawrence wants this espionage thriller to be darker and grittier than a glossy 007 flick, and although there are glamorous flourishes, he puts his star through paces one might not suspect are all that necessary.
"Red Sparrow" may not spark deep discussions about the modern Cold War. If anything, it's a long journey into a slightly better-than-decent, pulp-fictionesque spy thriller that will do until world events provide their own reality show fodder.
"Red Sparrow" is rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos ...
The following were edited from press materials.
Call Me By Your Name
MPAA rating: R for sexual content, nudity and some language
Movies at the TCA
The new film by Luca Guadagnino, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay at Sunday’s (March 4) Academy Awards presentation, is described as a sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel).
Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, much remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart.
One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (March 11), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday (March 12-15).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content and nudity
Mitchell Storyteller 7
Based on the unbelievable, but true events, “I, Tonya,” is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history.
Although Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.
Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding; a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly; a tour-de-force performance from Allison Janney — who won Best Supporting Actress at Sunday’s (March 4) Academy Awards — as her acid-tongued mother, LaVona Golden; and an original screenplay by Steven Rogers, director Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” is an absurd, irreverent and piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked — and checkered — glory.
This film will be screened daily.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.