In Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow, the Russian spy Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) sports two different S&M-inspired swimsuits. Both are black with strategically placed straps and cutouts. Later, in a water-torture scene, a guard ties Dominika’s arms behind her back with similar black straps. This psychosexual thriller indulges in titillating costumes and taboo role-playing — an uncle kisses his niece in full on the mouth — but ultimately punishes anyone who derives pleasure from foreplay, fantasy, or coitus. As a former ballerina recruited — or blackmailed, essentially — into espionage, Lawrence plays a downtrodden young woman who must outwit two sets of government agents, bureaucrats and assassins.
Teaming up with the director of her last three Hunger Games movies, she gives us a variation on the theme of her Katniss Everdeen archetype. Dominika has extraordinary, as yet untapped reserves of willpower that she deploys in the face of, mostly, male adversity. Only Asia Argento can act in roles that are as physically punishing — but even she, with her forehead perspiring, doesn’t inspire the same degree of sympathetic identification that Lawrence does. The curiously named CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is her love interest. But their sex scenes, filmed against the dramatic skylines of Budapest, Moscow, and London, are particularly desultory and frictionless. More compelling are Charlotte Rampling’s kinky spy-school sergeant and Joely Richardson as Dominika’s afflicted mother.
Opens Thursday at the AMC Van Ness 14.