Directed By Luc Besson
Starring – Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans
The Plot – Beneath Anna Poliatova’s (Luss) striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins.
Rated R for strong violence, adult language, and some sexual content
– Intriguing protagonist. What casts Anna aside from other Russian spy thriller heroines like “Atomic Blonde” or “Red Sparrow” is her vulnerability, which outlines a strong reservoir of empathy for the character that you can’t help but invest in. This is very much a movie that tells Anna’s complete evolution from frail Russian con artist to ass-kicking secret weapon for two respective groups of country intelligence, and along the way it manages to thoroughly document Anna’s jaded disposition in her search for freedom, giving the goal in question a constant reiterating of reminder to never lose focus. Anna is anything but a robotic superwoman who walks through scenes of bullet-riddled delivery, she’s an everyday girl who wants what everyone searches for: love, wealth, and especially freedom.
– Besson’s best. It’s clear that Besson has come a long way in his search for action perfection, and while this film has a lot of problems on the whole, the action sequences couldn’t fit better for a man who has dedicated his entire filmography to the genre. The editing is patient, the fight choreography is every bit believable as it is crisp with next fighter transition, and the angles used to depict everything are far enough back to cast believability and telegraphing to each sequence. In addition to this, the violence at times can be completely unforgiving, supplanting enough blood and brutality to cement its non-relenting nature in material. If very little else, see this film for the way Besson puts us in the heat of the environment without sacrificing the integrity for compromising visuals.
– Soundtrack as a gimmick. What surprised me greatly about the film’s musical incorporation was two fold. The first is the collection of disco-pop favorites that add a dimension of personality to the film’s grisly violence, and the second is the selections themselves that surprisingly fit appropriately enough into the dynamic of the storytelling progression. Tracks like INXS “Need You Tonight”, “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals, and “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic highlight a summary of toe-tapping tributes to the film’s timeless age setting, touching into the very pulse of Russian nightlife, where top 40 favorites have a never-ending shelf life.
– Deep, versatile cast. Luss is a star in the making. Through a combination of speed, strength, and beauty, it’s easy to understand why she is a dangerous threat to her male opposition, but it’s Sasha’s emoting delivery that made her so much more than just a pretty face, fleshing out the character in a way that evolves as the betrayals against her do. Also in tow is superb performances from Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, and especially Helen Mirren as this dry-witted imposing head of the KGB, who steals every scene she’s in with her wet blanket of negativity. The summarized cast certainly elevates the material here, and the constant professionalism by actors who are definitely better than the job they’ve accepted brings forth unabashed energy in their deliveries that go a long way to opening up their otherwise cryptic characters.
– Non-linear storytelling. Again we have another film where we have about thirty minutes of actual fluid real time storytelling, and 90 minutes of rewind scenes that are used to reveal something about the scene in current day that we wouldn’t of otherwise known. This gimmick is used far too often, stalling the pacing to dangerous levels of wanning interest that makes this film overcomplicate these valued scenes of character exposition. It gets so ridiculous at one point that we have a flashback during a flashback just to show Anna playing chess as a child, and does itself zero favors in returning to the modern day narrative that the film spends so much time (Especially during the first act) teasing us with. For my money, I would’ve used this gimmick once or twice, but anything more convolutes what is essentially a naturally easy story to tell.
– Predictable. In addition to the gimmick that I previously mentioned, another negative aspect that stems from it is too many predictable instances of twists designed to shock and awe the audience. Again, the gimmick is used far too often for anything shocking to feel remotely believable, and just like a coach who telegraphs an opposing team’s plays, I too found myself predicting the pulling of the rug that was about as elaborate as a trap designed by Wyle E. Coyote. This is especially the case with a late third act shock that asks us to believe in something that happens before our very eyes when the rest of the film reminded us how stupid we are for doing the exact same. It leaves very little meat of amazement on the bone of expectation, and has us the audience biding our time until the other shoe drops….like it always does.
– Too long a run time. 112 minutes might not sound like too big of an audience investment, but to a story that rewinds time so often and so repetitive over the exact same scene, the film feels strained to say the least. If this story played out consistently in real time, you could trim at least twenty minutes of that time, and maybe use it to further enhance character dynamics, like the one between Luss and Murphy that feels a bit rushed compared to the one between Luss and Evans. The worst area is definitely during the first act, where the combination of abrupt rewinding and lack of action influence compromise the film’s initial first steps in a way that will scare off audiences almost immediately. Russian spy thrillers, at least modern ones, are typically always filled with sluggish pacing, but “Anna” at times feels like a series of scattered ideas where not all of them sync up accordingly, and it leads to an uneven feeling of emptiness for the film’s first half compared to the superior second.
– Sexual objectification. I’m not a spaz. I know that it takes good looking women to sell a movie like this, but the film’s hypocritical stance when it comes to polarizing photographers for the way women are objectified, and then turning around and focusing on Sasha’s body with these intimate and alluring angles that commit the same crimes it is preaching so evidently against. In addition to this, there are four different sex scenes throughout the film. That’s a sex scene every 25 minutes on average, and could be considered overkill for a film so invested in female strength. One could argue that the sexual nature is used as a weapon for Anna, but there’s no denying that the frequent nudity and multiple sex partners might be unnecessary in hammering this point home, especially considering Besson’s own real life rape accusations with as many as five actresses that have earned him no respect from this critic.
– Lack of urgency. One aspect that “Red Sparrow” did especially better than this film was this sense of dread and paranoia that resonated so frequently within this dangerous group remaining firmly on her heels, and despite the stakes feeling twice as big for a movie like “Anna”, the script’s inability to ever properly channel her disposition is something that feels like an edge-of-the-seat missed opportunity for a film seeking the proper climatic anxiety to energize the film’s ambitious run time. Examples of this happen during scenes where the KGB have surveillance on Anna, then in the next scene we’re asked to believe that they don’t in something as practical as a hotel room. With some further prodding into Anna’s psychology the urgency could’ve flowed like champagne, and the audience investment would double because of such.
– What style? This is big especially with “Atomic Blonde”, a film so rich with 80’s neon aesthetic for the many club scenes that it felt authentic to the particular time frame. In “Anna”, no such thing exists, as this conventionally bland style of cinematography that have rubbed so many of Besson’s films together remains as persistent as ever in this film. Aside from the many mentions of where we are, as well as the hokey Russian accents, there’s no sense of geographical distinction in the abstract nature that is the film’s style, leaving too much opportunity left to visually seduce us in the same way that Anna does her prey. Much of the film has this cheap aura to it that kind of exists without establishing an identity for itself, and for an action film particularly, a lack of overall conscience remains especially devastating to the sleek camera movements inside of the action.
My Grade: 4/10 or D