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Red Sparrow: Movie Review

Red Sparrow released in September 2017, starring Jennifer Lawrence, and directed by Francis Lawrence, is a noirish espionage-thriller about a Russian ballerina forced to become a seductress for Russian Intelligence.

Red Sparrow: Title

The title is reference to the protagonist, ‘Red’ being a common slang term for the Russians and ‘Sparrow’, a term for an agent using seduction to entrap enemy sources.

(For more on titles, see How to Choose a Title For Your Novel)

Red Sparrow: Logline

After a ballerina witnesses an assassination, she is given two choices: death or become a state-sponsored seductress. Tasked with manipulating an American spy, she attempts to play both sides in order to gain revenge for her degradation.

(For how to write a logline, see The Killogator Logline Formula)

Red Sparrow: Plot Summary

Warning: My plot summaries contain spoilers. Major spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To view them, just select/highlight them.

It’s the modern-day. In Moscow, Dominika Egorova is a ballerina for the Bolshoi ballet. After a career-ending injury, she loses her position and is in a desperate situation. Her uncle, who works in Russian intelligence, offers to help her if she does a job for him: seducing an opposition politician and then switching his phone so they can monitor him. But when Dominika gets the politician alone, an assassin kills him. Dominika’s uncle had lied to her.

General Korchnoi, who’s high up in Russian Intelligence, insists they eliminate Dominika as a witness, but her uncle suggests another possibility. He’s impressed by how Dominika seduced the politician and offers her a position in Russian intelligence doing similar work. With no real choice, Dominika accepts.

Meanwhile, a CIA operative in Moscow, Nate Nash, meets with a mole in Russian intelligence, codenamed ‘Marble’. When Russian cops stumble on the meeting, Nash has to blow his cover to enable Marble to escape. Nate returns to the USA in disgrace. Marble refuses to work with any other CIA agents, though, and so the CIA sends Nate to Budapest to regain contact with him.

In Russia, Dominika trains as a ‘Sparrow’. The training involves abusive and degrading treatment, which Dominika resists. Despite her stubbornness, her uncle decides to use her as an agent. He sends her to Budapest to seduce Nate, hoping he will tell her the identity of Marble.

The Mission

In Budapest, Dominika shares an apartment with another sparrow, Marta. Marta, without orders, has seduced the chief of staff of a US Senator. Dominika tells her uncle about the unauthorised plan and he executes Marta for her transgression.

Dominika contacts Nate and immediately admits she is a Russian agent and that her mission is to discover Marble’s identity. She offers to become a double agent for the CIA.

Under CIA control, Dominika meets with the American Senator’s chief of staff, receives the intelligence she’s selling, and switches it for fake information. The CIA close in to arrest their traitor, but she’s run over by a van before they can apprehend her.

Suspecting that Dominika betrayed the operation to the CIA, Russian intelligence torture her. She refuses to admit anything and eventually convinces her uncle that the fact that her own side has treated her so brutally will make her completely credible to Nate.

Dominika’s uncle allows her to return to Budapest. There, she tells Nate that she wants to defect to the USA. He agrees to help her.

Marble

Later, [blackout] Dominika finds another Russian operative trying to beat the identity of Marble out of Nate. She pretends to join in, but then attacks and kills the Russian. She and Nate are both badly injured in the fight and end up in hospital. At the hospital, General Korchnoi reveals he is Marble and tells Dominika to unmask him. This triumphant achievement will allow her to take his place as the CIA’s mole.[/blackout]

Dominika [blackout] contacts the head of Russian intelligence and reveals the identity of Marble. The Americans then arrange a spy-swop: Dominika for Marble. However, rather than naming General Korchnoi, Dominika frames her uncle as Marble in revenge for the terrible ordeal he has put her through. During the handover, a Russian sniper kills the uncle.[/blackout]

Russian intelligence [blackout] celebrates Dominika as a hero. Later, at home, she receives a phone call, implying that she’s still in contact with Nate.[/blackout]

(For more on summarising stories, see How to Write a Novel Synopsis)

Red Sparrow: Analysis

Plot

Red Sparrow has a Mission plot (see Spy Novel Plots ).

The ‘Mission’ Plot

The Protagonist:

  1. Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
  2. Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
  3. Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
  4. Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  6. Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  7. Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
  8. Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes).
  9. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.

This archetypal plot is complicated in that it’s not clear who the Antagonists are. Dominika‘s uncle,  Russian Intelligence and the Americans all seem to be the Antagonists at times, as Dominika tries to survive their machinations.

Red Sparrow – Black Widow – Nikita

A Russian ballerina trained at a brutal spy school to become a seductress and spy? What does that remind me of? Yes, it’s the same back story as Marvel’s Black Widow.

Red Sparrow is also reminiscent of the classic French movie Nikita (and its loose remake Anna) with a spy agency forcing a troubled young woman to become a seductress/assassin.

However, Red Sparrow is not a Black Widow or Atomic Blonde style action movie, with spectacular stunts, but a wannabe slow-burn Le Carré style spy-movie. It’s a hell of a lot darker and more ‘realistic’ than the superhero-tinged Black Widow. Some of the violence is brutal, and the sex scenes are unpleasant, too. If you watch Red Sparrow to see Jennifer Lawrence stripping off, it will disappoint you.

And although Red Sparrow is comparable to Nikita in its noir edge, the comparison is not flattering: Nikita is a far superior movie.

Red Sparrow: The Ending Explained

This section contains massive spoilers, obviously.

To be honest, the ending is all a bit of a deus ex machina and doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.

Dominika’s problem was she was supposed to make Nate fall in love with her, so he’d tell her the identity of Marble. At the same time, Nate was trying to make Dominika fall in love with him so she’d defect.

The deus ex machina occurs when Marble reveals himself to Dominika as the mole out of nowhere and for no discernable reason. That means the conflict at the heart of the story is simply unresolved.

Instead of turning the real Marble in though, Dominika tells the head of Russian intelligence that her uncle is Marble – the evidence being one tumbler with Nate’s fingerprints (which she placed in her uncle’s apartment), a bank account in her uncle’s name (which she opened) and the fake CIA intelligence (which she obtained, not him). This is not very much evidence at all.

Also, Dominika collected those items early in the story, so must have been planning to frame her uncle before she discovered who Marble was, so it doesn’t even matter.

Luckily, the head of Russian intelligence is an idiot and so falls for Dominika’s transparent attempt to frame her uncle and everyone goes home happy… except for her uncle, who’s dead.

It never becomes clear if either, or both, of Nate and Dominika were genuine or they were both just attempting to manipulate each other. However, the final scene implies they are at least still in contact.

Red Sparrow: My Verdict

Not sure I quite bought the plot, but the ride is entertaining enough.

Want to Watch It?

Here’s the trailer:

Red Sparrow is available on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

Agree? Disagree?

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