Red Sparrow


            Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) a top-flight Russian ballerina.  She lives in a small but cozy flat with her Mom, who's not in great health and needs caretaking.  Dominika is not married and doesn't have any children; her life has been her ballet career.  But then comes the horrific injury suffered during a performance.  Her male lead falls on her leg, bending it backwards, and though immediate surgery saved her leg, she's not going to dance any more.

            The problem is that the apartment was also owned by the ballet company, and now she's no longer eligible for it.  She has no other skills.  But she does have an Uncle in the SVR, the foreign intelligence service, the successor to the KGB.  He's not a nice man, and hasn't had much to do with the family since his brother, Dominika's father, died.  But her Uncle offers her a chance to go to a special training school for Russian agents.  The women who go there are called Sparrows because they're all young and attractive, and because they're expendable.  They have nothing left to lose.  And they're treated like they are the property of their country.

            But Dominika is a survivor.  She's used to punishing her body for her ballet, so the physical stuff is no problem.  It's the part about overcoming her pride.  They want to break everybody down so they will do anything for their country.  Including using their own bodies.  They are prepared for this by being subject to humiliation and degradation in front of everyone else.  So they will stop thinking that their bodies are their own.

            The Sparrows are also taught in the fine arts of seduction, deception, and how to “read” people.  What do they really want, and what can I do to provide that for them?  There's no judging of any perversion, because it might be an entree to a new source.  And all the Sparrows know that if they're compromised, they'll be eliminated.  And if they betray the program, they'll be tortured before they're eliminated.

            Dominika is an exceptional student, mainly because she has a gift already for perceiving what it is that people really want.  And because she's mentally tough and physically fit.  She's a natural.  And so they send her on her first assignment, where her handlers demonstrate to her that they don't tell her everything.  In fact, they deliberately deceive her in order to accomplish a mission that she didn't know anything about beforehand.  “Need to know.”

            Dominika catches a potential break when she learns that her roommate, also an agent, is just beginning to “turn” a foreign operative, and Dominika manages to insert herself into the action.  Along the way, she meets an American CIA agent, Nate (Joel Edgerton), and together they try to figure out how they can both survive.  Or is her attraction to him purely manipulative on her part?

            Yes, so much double-crossing and plot twists that we're not even sure we understood it all, even at the end.  But it's a breathless and gritty take on the ancient art of statecraft.  Not for the genteel souls.  And if the real spies we know are out there are really this good, we could be in more trouble than we think.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association