Alfred Hitchcock spent much of his career making good or great films from bad or mediocre books. Director Francis Lawrence (the Catching Fire and Mockingjay installments of The Hunger Games) cannot manage the same feat with Red Sparrow, based on the ho-hum bestseller of the same name.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a Russian ballerina who suffers a career-ending injury. Without her dancing, she won’t be able to care for her ill mother (Joely Richardson). When her sleazy spymaster uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) says he can help if she becomes a spy, she reluctantly agrees. Eventually, she becomes a “sparrow,” a spy whose job is to seduce enemy targets. She’s asked to seduce a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who’s in contact with a mole in the Russian government.
Lawrence remains her usual charismatic self, but the film’s pacing never feels right. She doesn’t meet Edgerton until almost an hour into the film’s hefty 139-minute running time. Many of the scenes in that first hour could have easily been jettisoned or trimmed. Once the film gets going, the spy plot is merely okay. Because Lawrence and Edgerton take so long to meet, their relationship doesn’t feel fully developed so the emotional stakes never feel as high as they should be.