Running Time: 94 minutes; Direction: Francis Lawrence; Starring: Jennifer Lawrence; Screenplay: Justine Haythe based on the novel by James Matthew; Cinematography: Jo Willems; Editing: Allan Edward Bell; Producer; Music: James NewtonHoward; Location: Russia; Genre: Thriller; Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V18
Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet company. Part of her privilege includes the medical care of her sick mother and the rental of their upscale home. But when Dominika has an onstage accident, all these privileges are jeopardized. She is then forced to accept a “job offer” from her uncle Vanya (Schoenaerts), a top Soviet intelligence agent, to seduce Dimitry Ustinov, a Russian politician. She is raped by Ustinov and seemingly saved by a Russian operative who kills the politicians. However, under the pain of death she is asked to be a “sparrow”—a secret agent trained to hunt political targets. Left with no choice, Dominika is sent to a harsh training facility and learns the way of seduction and ruthlessness. She emerges with grit and determination enduring physical, mental and sexual assaults. Meanwhile an American agent, Nate (Edgerton) working with a Russian mole has been monitored in the effort to discover the identity of his mole. Dominika is assigned to gain the trust of Nate so he can reveal his mole. In the turn of events, Dominika discovers loyalties and makes a decision on whose side to be on.
Francis Lawrence version of Jason Matthew’s novel is a courageous attempt to recreate Jennifer Lawrence making her go through a series of external and internal demands Dominika has to go through. Jennifer succeeds effortlessly to make her character real as the situation becomes more unreal. The chemistry of Francis and Jennifer, director and star, is stronger and more fluid than Dominika and Nate’s. While the film delivers the grit and chill, it sluggishly moves from one point to the next, making it a dull 139 minutes to endure. The twists are not really surprising, even if you have not read the novel. It’s just that too many spy movies begin and end this way. Dominika’s ordeal and transformation is an effort to showcase female empowerment but there is too much emphasis on violence that it becomes repetitive and gratuitous. The effort points to a watered down theme of exploitation and survival. The star of the film is Jennifer’s talent, not the story or storytelling.
The movie is definitely not for young audiences. Seduction, physical and sexual abuse, nudity, profanities and violence pepper the scenes. It could have been an engaging spy film but Francis Lawrence’s directorial inclination to showcase sex and violence become stumbling blocks to achieving this. Twittering through the scenes, you can pick up one strong message: enterprising persons take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the hurting, the suffering and the fallen. When we look at people in need as opportunities to gain favors or push a personal agenda in the guise of charity or even develop debt of gratitude. When people do this, they risk to build monsters who will recognize the exploitation and become equally heartless. The cycle will never end. We need to realize how we should respond out of concern, out of love, out of our responsibility to be human. (PMF)