A violent yarn about a school of seductive female Russian agents is an ill-advised role for Jennifer Lawrence
In this brutally violent spy thriller, Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina in modern-day Moscow whose career ends abruptly after a nasty onstage injury. No longer able to pay for her ailing mother’s care, she’s forced to make a deal with her skin-crawlingly slimy uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts). He sends her to “whore school”, where Charlotte Rampling’s matron trains “sparrows”, secret agents taught to wield seduction as a weapon to extract information.
The tone is relentlessly bleak, and for all its depraved sexuality the film’s gaze is more drooling teenage boy than genuinely adult or erotic. It’s not that the entire project is redundant: a studio picture for grownups isn’t something to be sniffed at, and there’s enjoyment to be derived from its propulsive, glossy stylings and grandiose Russian locales (even if the same can’t be said for its clunky handle on US-Russia relations). The problem is that the role doesn’t showcase any of Lawrence’s gifts as an actor. The tenacity and fiery wit that have come to define her don’t fit within the confines of this bloodless, oddly blank character. There are whispers of past trauma, abuse and even incest that might explain Dominika’s hardness, or at least her aptitude for both enduring and inflicting violence, but the film doesn’t want to go there. Instead, it busies itself with the grim surface pleasures of ogling its central character as she is degraded in every way possible.