When her ballet career comes to a sudden end, young Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) finds her home – and care for her sick mother (Joely Richardson) – all at risk, but her creepy Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) has a solution: work for the shadowy Russian security services.
Under the tutelage of the unforgiving Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika joins the latest class of “Sparrows,” a group of men and women taught to use sex as a weapon, and Dominika is a quick learner, not afraid to use her brains, brawn and other assets.
Elsewhere in Moscow, CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) sees his ace double agent nearly exposed, and now it looks like he’s off the case and headed back to the USA – but luckily he gets another shot, and of course he’s the first target for Dominika
The pair quickly meet and soon realize exactly what the other is up to, but those sparks seem to be there – so there’s going to be trouble ahead. Then again, who is Dominika loyal to, and will she let her feelings for Nate overcome her love for the Motherland?
Ponderous and lacking the action and thrills we might have expected from such a story, director Lawrence (no relation; though he did helm several of the Hunger Games films) tries hard to make full use of the rather gorgeous Budapest scenery, and the action (or rather not) seems to switch from Vienna to London and more Euro hotspots.
Yes there’s nudity – and more than that, several violent scenes – but the whole tone seems like a 1980s affair, with a standard Russian cartoonish accent from Lawrence, many twists that are confusingly predictable (you’ll NEVER guess who the mole is!) and a subplot involving the sale of a defense system that comes on a series of computer disks (yes, the square disks used 20-30 years ago).
Quite how such an impressive supporting cast was assembled (Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Mary-Louise Parker, Douglas Hodge) isn’t clear, but maybe they all thought the adaptation might be a Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy-style spin on the book by Jason Matthews.
Sadly, in the century of Bourne, the recent Atomic Blonde (and the ever-present Bond), this Mata Hari idea seems past its sell-by date. Maybe it needed a “B” in the title…