First Hit: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.
Jennifer Lawrence (here as Dominika Egorova) is a strong actress and is able to project anger, sadness, and determination with only her eyes. It is this skill that sets her apart from many actresses.
As a Russian ballet dancer Dominika is revered more for her beauty than her dancing. However, she is good enough for the ballet company to give her an apartment and provide medical help for her sick mother. Her uncle Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) is part of Russian Intelligence and occasionally looks in on Dominika and her mom Nini (Joely Richardson).
When Dominika breaks her leg, Vanya recruits her to work for Russian Intelligence. He wants her because of her steely determination. He promises here that if she joins him, he’ll make arrangements for her mom to keep the apartment and her medical assistance.
Her first job is to seduce Dimitry Ustinov (Kristof Konrad). When he tries to rape Dominika, Russian Intelligence kills him while he’s on top of her. Because of her success she’s recruited to become a Sparrow. Sparrows use seduction and sex to get what they want from the people they seduce. They are trained in passionless seduction, hand to hand combat and how to use guns.
The Headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) of the Sparrow school is referred to as “Matron.” And it is her goal to make sure they become passionless seducers and combat ready spies.
Dominika is sent on a mission to Budapest to seduce American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). The goal is to find out the Russian Intelligence mole he was working with so that this mole can be destroyed.
Throughout the film, we see Dominika developing a path and plan to survive and persevere while keeping her mom’s health, safety, and welfare on her mind. However, as an audience member, we don’t always know what her plan is and how it will work out. That's the best part of this film. The unknowing, underscored with believing that Dominika will, in the end, get revenge, makes this story work.
Lawrence was excellent as the cold-hearted Sparrow who had a soul. I didn’t fully buy her being a premiere ballerina (jumps were barely 6 inches high), but this was completely overshadowed by her ability to embody the role as a spy. Rampling was perfect as the cold-hearted Matron of the Sparrow school. Edgerton was strong as the American spy who risked his life to keep his mole secret. Richardson was good as Dominika’s mom. Mary-Louise Parker (as Stephanie Boucher) was strong in her role as a US Senator’s Chief of Staff. Jeremy Irons (as General Vladimir Andreievich Korchnoi) was perfect. His cold intimidating voice and manner worked well. Justin Haythe wrote a good complicated screenplay. Director Francis Lawrence did a good of not tipping the story’s hand.
Overall: I enjoyed the film’s puzzle and it was the acting that made it work.