Captain Vimes, reporting!
Red Sparrow the novel came out in 2013, becoming instantly popular with fans of the genre. The movie rights were sold quickly, and it hits theaters today, directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence (no relation, apparently) of the Hunger Games team.
Full disclosure, I loved Red Sparrow the novel. It brought the intrigue and spy craft of a life I’ll (probably?) never know alive in my imagination in an incredibly vivid way. Every aspect about the story kept me turning the pages to the point that I forgot to enjoy the rest of the weekend vacation I was on at the time. According the New York Times review “Spy vs Spy” by Jason Matthews, this was one of the first books by a United States intelligence officer that delved deeply into the spy craft element of the world of espionage. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, this was probably one of the elements that really made the novel stand out amongst its contemporaries.
Walking into the theater for the movie version of Red Sparrow, I kept my expectations low. It’s likely we’ve all seen a movie version of a beloved story fouled by a divergent vision of the story compared to what came together in our minds. With Red Sparrow however, I was in for an unexpected treat. From the moment the movie opened everything took me right into the world the author had already put together in my mind. The first five minutes took us just the right distance into the story to set the scene appropriately. And it does so in a way that covers multiple chapters of the book without wasting a breath or making me regret not adding more time to the film.
While in the novel we get deep explanations and thought processes, in the movie we experience the same story through a look, a touch, or perhaps an inflection that speaks pages (literally). As a lover of the spy craft explained in the novel, I might begrudge a lack of explanation that we are treated to in the book. However, I have to give credit the filmmakers for including enough of the origin story that made me love the characters and invest in their lives. The film brought a new perspective of this story into the light that I might not have experienced by reading the novel again.
Jennifer Lawrence crushes her role as Dominika Egorova. She takes the PG-rated bad-assery from her work in Hunger Games to a new level as Russia’s weapon of intrigue. Joel Edgerton, playing Nate Nash, the opposing force is just ok. He serves his purpose, at the very least. Charlotte Rampling kind of steals the show for a bit as she plays Matron, Russia’s espionage trainer for the Sparrows, a very specialized group of Russian intelligence officers. Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons definitely stand out as incredibly fun pieces of the puzzle in their roles. Some of the Russian accents could have used some work, but all in all the actors give a fantastic showing.
Everything flowed smoothly save one moment that I don’t quite understand the purpose of, but I’m betting I simply missed something. I’m already eager to see it again to sink into the story and take a moment more to appreciate all the angles!
Overall Red Sparrow surpassed my expectation of the storytellers. The filmmakers amazed me by refreshing a familiar story I’ve come to love. As a stand-alone movie, I would have enjoyed it as well, although I will say the background of the novel helps pull everything together. If you’re not a reader or aren’t into spy novels don’t let that stop you from checking out Red Sparrow!
Captain Vimes, signing off.