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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Anna

Say what you will about filmmaker Luc Besson, but he usually makes films that are unmistakably his.  Even his last film, the big-budget Sci-Fi bomb, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, could have only come from him.  Either that, or an overactive 10-year-old boy.  That's why his latest film, Anna, is a surprise in the worst way.  It has none of his flourish, humor, or style.  I fear the rejection of his previous movie may have watered down his talents just a little.  Either that, or his mind has been on other things lately, primarily the several allegations of sexual misconduct that have dogged him lately, and caused the release of this film to be delayed.

Whatever the case, Anna will seem familiar to anyone who has seen La Femme Nikita, which launched Besson's career back in 1990.  So familiar, in fact, that he almost seems to repeating many of the same ideas as he did in that film.  To help perhaps make this new movie stand out, he employs a gimmick throughout the film in which the story is constantly backtracking and jumping around chronologically.  The story will start out by going in a fairly linear fashion, then there will be some kind of big reveal, and the movie will suddenly cut back to an earlier event, where it turns out there was some information that we didn't see before.  This is the movie's way of trying to be smarter than us, by withholding information.  It's the cinematic equal to listening to someone tell a story or a joke, and they're constantly going back, because they forgot to tell you something important.  If that sounds like fun to you, be my guest, but it irked me to no end.

Anna (played by fashion model Sasha Luss) is an attractive but down on her luck Russian woman who is stuck in a relationship with an abusive lout, until an agent from the KGB named Alex (Luke Evans) recognized her talents, and took her away from the life she knew in order to work for him and his boss, the chain-smoking and foul-mouthed Olga (Helen Mirren).  They promise to let her return to a normal life after five years, and Anna begins a life as an assassin.  In short time, Anna is one of their most skilled killers, using her beauty and deadly instincts to seduce and then murder her targets in various brutal ways.  Her current mission has her posing as a model in Paris, where she begins a romantic relationship with a fellow model named Maud (Lera Abova), all the while trying to keep her real line of work private.

Her cover is ultimately blown by an American CIA agent named Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy), who wants to use Anna to get to the inside of the KGB.  Over time, Anna starts sleeping with Lenny, as well as Alex.  Not that any of these relationships matter much to the overall narrative.  It's just an excuse for some provocative love making that doesn't hold as much weight as you would expect.  Anna is basically playing all sides of the conflict in her desire to get out of being a killer, which naturally is easier said than done.  Again, this fairly straight forward narrative is told in a manner that confusingly jumps around.  We get constant subtitles that read "Five Years Later", "Three Years Before", "November 1990", "1985"...The whole time line jumping gimmick, as well as doubling back to reveal information we didn't see before, feels more like an attempt to mask just how simplistic the story actually is.

Besson would normally attack this kind of material with ferocity, and perhaps even a hint of lunacy that would generate some laughs.  But, as I've already stated, Anna feels cold and offers very little of interest.  The only stand out action sequence is one that takes place within a crowded restaurant, where Anna takes out the goons of an intended target with anything she can get her hands on, including the dinner plates.  However, a lot of this scene has already been shown in the trailer.  The studio obviously knew that this was the main highlight, so they built their ad campaign around it.  Fair enough, but it still feels like a cheat when you realize how little there is going on for the rest of the film.  Rather than creating a thriller that quickens the pace of the audience, Besson instead decides to distract us by telling his story out of sequence for no discernible reason.

Obviously, the studio is releasing Anna on a big summer weekend in the hopes that no one will notice it, and that it will be gone by the 4th of July.  Given the limited advertising this film has gotten, and its delayed release, they obviously are just pushing it out in order to be forgotten as quick as possible.  I say grant their wish, and save your money.

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