Under the Radar

Is the Cold War Really Over? 'Red Sparrow' & Russia's Spy Schools


"Red Sparrow" (out now on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) is a thriller steeped in Cold War spy craft. Based on a novel by CIA veteran Jason Matthews, the movie follows Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ballerina forced to enter Sparrow School after an injury ends her career in dance.

The movie is a collaboration between the actor and director Francis Lawrence ("Hunger Games: Catching Fire", "Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2"), but "Red Sparrow" is a far darker enterprise than those massive box office hits.

Dominika is recruited (read: forced) to go to a secret school where she learns to be a "sexpionage" agent for a post-Communist Russian intelligence outfit. The movie doesn't romanticize the sex: Dominika is exploited by her handlers and the core story is how she learns her craft and eventually wreaks havoc on the men who exploited her.

It's also a movie that suggests that a post-Soviet Russian government isn't really all that different from the Communist foe we faced in the Cold War. The political system may have gotten a surface makeover, but the national character essentially remains the same.

RELATED: Ex-CIA Agent and 'Red Sparrow' Author Jason Matthews Talks About the Russian Threat

This isn't an action picture like "Atomic Blonde," instead evoking 60s/70s spy thrillers like Michael Caine's Harry Palmer series but adding more violence and explicit sex. The movie did respectable business at the worldwide box office but there's no word yet as to whether Jennifer Lawrence will return to the role for future movies based on Matthews' two other Dominika novels.

The home video release comes with a lot of bonus features, including a strong director commentary by Francis Lawrence.

  • A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation
  • Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast
  • Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity
  • Heart of the Tempest: On Location
  • Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts
  • A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production
  • Director Commentary by Francis Lawrence
  • 10 Deleted Scenes (With Optional Commentary by Francis Lawrence)


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