Red Sparrow (2018): ‘The Gritty Spy Film’ – A Film Review



To say Red Sparrow is a Spy film would be to group this tense film about Russian Espionage with James Bond, therefore completely missing the point. This shockingly brutal and subtle film is quite a distance from James Bond and other spy films. Based upon a book by ex Cia, Jason Matthews, we’re given a grittily real look into something dark and hidden. Taken to the screen by Francis Lawrence and making his fourth consecutive feature film with Jennifer Lawrence; Red Sparrow doesn’t feel like the natural progression but U turn from The Hunger Games franchise. This thriller earns its R rating in the US (15 in UK) and despite being utterly dark, it feels heavily justified and thematically complex.


World Building

Playing with cinematic tradition, Red Sparrow is a testament to the use and power of Parallel Montage as worlds so separate are destined to collide. Developing it’s tension so powerfully with the notion that telling someone to go through a door has an immense amount of tension if we, and even if the characters see, what has happened to the last guy who did. The shockingly real violence is all important to instill this sense of threat which doubles as a shaky character motivation. This subsequently feeds into the story which stands on the edge of a knife. Everyone is to be suspected and the audience can never quite tell where the protagonist holds her allegiance. Ex Machina does a very similar thing in its world building but keeps the protagonist clear. This is the key to the films success as you’re forever guessing with tense uncertainty. A character making mistakes that could be both a ploy and a reason for treason perfectly doubles this tension. The tense scenes and gritty violence recall, at times, films like Eastern Promises which do not feel like a coincidence but a mastered homage.



Everyone is a puzzle; figure out the missing piece and everyone can be controlled by their desire. Hauntingly similarly phrased by a teacher for the perfect spy/seductress willing to do unspeakable things for the state (this revenge against men ironically recalls the last film I saw Charlotte Rampling in – Great Expectations). This brings an endurance to the characters to help engagement with the protagonist in a similar way, but couldn’t be further in tone from, Azumi. The gritty tone is pushed to its boundaries as actors reveal themselves unashamedly, showing their commitment and the darkness of this world that could just as easily turn on them. This plot device narrowly avoids recalling Nazisploitation films that just exploit nudity and sexuality. The subtle expressions and limited dialogue of these characters keeps you guessing, do they find characters attractive, is it a seduction, is it a failure? This runs well until moments of intimacy have to be depicted – where unfortunately the performance breaks into something unrealistic.



This is all backed by a wonderfully subtle and tense soundtrack and the extremely unsual low shots, that enclose the dark spaces perfectly, set the tone in a new way. For those gripped by the films world, Red Sparrow will loose you in the dark struggles of internal conflict, as well as just how to raise the upper hand – a hand so pivotally close to unbelievable perfection. However, those that can’t follow the characters on their dark choices (or the dark lack of choice), or struggle to believe the precision in which these scenarios pan out, then Red Sparrow will drag. But for all, there is an overwhelming sense of atmosphere, backed by the soundtrack, cinematography and almost flawless performances.



Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a dancer who finds her world taken from her when another dancer breaks her leg on stage. Nate (Joel Edgerton) is a US secret agent deep undercover in Russia and with a kind heart to a Russian mole. Dominika quickly finds herself blackmailed into a much darker secret life thanks to her uncle. Nate is fired but, for the connection to his friend, the government finds he is the only man to keep in contact with the mole. Dominika becomes a Sparrow, one of the most dangerous agents in the world, skilled to manipulate, fight and dig out information from people and places. If Dominika finds the mole, her life and her sick mothers life, will be assured.





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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Azumi (d. Ryuhei Kitamura Japan 2003)

Eastern Promises (d. David Cronenberg UK/Canada/USA 2007)

Ex Machina (d. Alex Garland UK 2014)

Great Expectations (d. Julian Jarrold UK/USA 1999)

Red Sparrow (d. Francis Lawrence USA 2018)

The Hunger Games (d. Gary Ross, Francis Lawrence USA/Germany 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)



Further Reading

Official Site

Interview with Francis Lawrence

Interview with Jennifer Lawrence

Interview with Joel Edgerton

11 Facts about Red Sparrow 


Behind the Scenes


If you liked this…

Den of Thieves (2018): ‘Personal Emotion and Plot’ – A Film Review

Dunkirk (2017): – A Film Review

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


Red Sparrow (d. Francis Lawrence USA 2018)


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