By: Hawk Ripjaw (Five Beers) –
For some reason, I thought that out of the pair of movies of that weekend, Anna would be funnier than Child’s Play. Having seen both, I have concluded that not only am I wrong, I’m stupid. Almost as stupid as this movie that doesn’t even make sense.
For Anna, Luc Besson once again dusts off his Mad Libs involving an empowered yet still objectified woman being victimized a lot until she gets to kill people. Similarly to Nikita, Anna (Sasha Luss) is an assassin. Well, not at first. I mean, at first in the movie she is. Kind of. In the early scenes she’s recruited to be a model, and she’s living the model life and then she dates a dude, and right after they have a suspiciously expository conversation, BANG, she shoots him and then it’s revealed that she’s an assassin!
But before that happens, an evil KGB general Vassiliev (Eric Godon) discovers that there are human moles/undercover people in the KGB, and he has them all rounded up and their heads shipped back to the CIA. Needless to say, this is fatal for all of the moles, and a CIA agent named, uh, Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy) finds himself without any more intel in the KGB. At this point it’s really bugging me that Lenny Miller sounds like a guy that works part time at a brewery and never cleans his bathroom and spends every Thursday at an open mic night where he does acoustic covers of Soundgarden.
After that happens but before the first part happens, Anna is approached by Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans, hamming up a Russian accent like he’s a Grand Theft Auto character) to join the KGB. No, wait. That’s not when that happens… Uh, further in the past, she wants to join the Navy and her shitty boyfriend is roasting her for it and generally being the kind of shitty that usually gets this sort of movie character shot in the face. He drags her along on a ride to an ATM, and she’s like “there’s no ATMs here in Moscow” and he’s like “sure baby they just installed the first one” and she’s like “but you don’t have a bank card” and he’s like “naw I got it covered” and it turns out that “got it covered” means “beat the shit out of this old man in front of like every security camera and immediately get a 5-star Wanted level” and when they finally escape back to the apartment, the boyfriend gets shot in the face by Luke Evans. See, told ya.
So after that happens, Alex/Luke Evans recruits Anna to the KGB, and Anna meets one of their main handlers, Olga (Helen Mirren, clearly using “The Luke Evans Playbook of How to Do a Russian Accent” and making the Russians in Archer sound authentic) and they tell her that she’ll be an assassin/model for five years and then she’s out. They bang.
Oh yeah, now Anna has a girlfriend, (Lera Abova), but I can’t remember where that happens in the movie. They bang.
But THEN it’s revealed that the part at the beginning actually happened later, and the whole part about Anna being recruited for the modeling agency was just a ploy for her to get into the modeling agency, and THEN GET SET UP WITH THE GUY SHE WAS DATING AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SYNOPSIS JUST SO HE COULD KILL HIM.
But before that happens in the movie but after that happens in the actual timeline (I THINK) Lenny tracks Anna down and is like “Hey I could fucking kill you and put you in prison but why don’t you be a double agent for the CIA and after a year you can retire in Hawaii” so she does that. And then they bang.
But WHO CARES? Nothing matters in this movie.
Roughly every 20 minutes or less, Anna produces a time jump. Someone gets double crossed, something is not as it seems, or something surprising happens. What happens is usually directly contradictory to what we already know. And then we get a “Three months earlier” or “Six months later” that adds some context. These jumps number somewhere in the neighborhood of a half dozen or so, and by the halfway point it gets tiresome. It also gets unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Eventually, multiple ones are stacked one after the other, and it eventually becomes clear that this is the movie’s only gimmick. The plot here really isn’t even that good, it just keeps disguising timeline shifts as plot twists and expects you to be surprised. It produces the opposite effect, and instead of actually letting the story be organically exciting it feels the need to over-explain everything.
For a movie that’s supposed to take place in the early 90s and occasionally the late 80s, it sure does have a careless attitude towards making that sense of time and place feel authentic. In fact, the anachronistic technology is almost insulting. One could potentially suspend disbelief on the grounds that maybe, just maybe, the KGB had access to USB flash drives a decade before they went to market, but, come on, man.
It’s not just the flash drives, either: floppy disks, laptops, and a few other pieces of technology just feel completely out of place because they did not exist then, whether in that iteration or at all. How about a big computer that resides in an innocuous case that copies the contents of the laptop placed on top of it? That’s not the KGB, that’s the fucking Spy Kids. You NEVER go half-chub on the setting. Either have fun with period-appropriate permutations on technology, or say “fuck it” and go nuts with alternate history nonsense. There’s not even a sense of fun or consistency to the anachronisms, the movie just carelessly throws around inappropriate technology as a crutch for the plot.
Uh…I guess there are a couple of decent action scenes. I know beggars can’t be choosers, but a few weeks ago we were graced with the arrival of John Wick 3, which absolutely set the gold standard for action, and Anna wishes it was that cool. That said, the restaurant fight scene featured heavily is still decently shot, choreographed and edited, and it’s mostly coherent. Anna improvising during the fight, such as using broken dinner plates as knives and twirling around as she dispatches thugs has a great level of energy to it. A car chase earlier in the film is put together relatively well and has a good sense of chaos and stakes. God, this is really hard to even care about. I love car chases. My overly-protective mother, who ferociously defended me against the alleged developmental assault of R-rated action movies in my adolescence, still called me down from my adolescent private time to show me the car chase in The Rock. It’s really hard for me to not like a car chase in a movie. And the car chase in Anna didn’t get much more of a response out of me apart from “Well, at least it’s not the rest of the movie.”
Ironically, it’s during this car chase that Anna is actually a sympathetic character because she shows emotion, confusion, and vulnerability. That mostly dissipates later.
Many of Luc Besson’s films, particularly his classics, feature characters that are cool, sexy, badass, and in possession of a little bit of baggage to make you want to root for them or at least care about them. The characters in Anna are thin, cutthroat pieces of shit that have no relatability. The supporting characters wander in and out of the movie in a weirdly listless way, getting interchanged as counterparts for Anna’s business and pleasure but never really getting any sort of concrete, interesting arcs of their own. They’re window dressings for Anna’s story, without anything to do besides play off of Anna.
Anna, for her part, is frankly awful. She’s thinly written, she’s nearly impossible to root or care for since we know almost nothing about her, and is incredibly bland for nearly the entire movie. Stoicism can be a good character trait, but here it feels like Anna just switches off for most of the movie. In her pre-model/assassin scenes, she has some compelling agency as a character who needs to break out of her abusive lifestyle, but as an assassin he’s absolutely boring and blank. She has outbursts of emotion, but none of them feel tied to any sort of character progression or impactful events; they just feel like obligatory plot points. She does possess some of those Besson protagonist hallmarks, but they’re limp and lifeless. When the movie isn’t on autopilot, it’s aping La Femme Nikita or Atomic Blonde.
That’s not even touching on the movie’s half-baked and hamfisted “attempt” to juxtapose sexuality and violence. At least half of Anna’s wardrobe is composed of lingerie, which, I imagine, isn’t particularly practical for murder. You’d think maybe the movie would provide some sort of commentary on objectification of women and the “chew you up and spit you out” parallels between the fashion industry and the spy…. industry. Instead, it throws her in half of an outfit and says “Hey, you’re checking out this hot lady but she’s also a murderer! We live in a society!”
I left Anna not really hating it, but the more I think back on it, the more frustrated I am with it.
Here’s what it comes down to: Anna feels incredibly lazy, like Luc Besson dusted off a very old first draft from the 90s (hell, this could have been La Femme Nikita at one point) and pushed a movie out. There’s seemingly little effort involved, like we’re expected to just like it. It’s the equivalent of a student who waits until the night before a huge essay is due, finds the same topic online, copy-pastes it, and changes a few words here or there It recycles ideas from recent action movies,
The masturbatory fashion and action sequences do very little to pop, and are set up to have something to say without actually saying it. It’s interesting to juxtapose the fashion industry and espionage, because both have their own versions of treating their employees as disposable, but it never goes there. It just falls into the same problem that Besson has had his entire career, where he can’t come to terms with both his interest in women as sexualized figures and his intent to empower women. Anna never evolves past her objectified, abused past and into her empowered future. The movie just doesn’t have the energy to execute the statements it feels like it’s setting up.
And then I realize: if this movie isn’t going to put in much effort, do I really need to care at all?
Hang on! Just like the movie, the review that you thought was over is not. Anna is barely two hours but it’s packed with stops and starts and false endings that drag the pacing to the ground. By the end of the second act, the movie feels like it’s beginning to wrap up, and in the final 40 minutes, slows to an absolutely agonizing crawl. It’s at this point where the main plot thread has reached its conclusion, but it just keeps going. We’ve checked out with these characters, we’re ready for the movie to end, but it’s still not done. There is a laborious finale that, for (hopefully) the last time, allows the credits to roll, but that chance gets assassinated by a bullet through the back of the fucking head and the hand holding the gun is yet another epilogue.
Anna (2019) Movie Review Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time jump.
Take a Drink: every time Anna bangs someone.
Do a Shot: for every instance of blatantly anachronistic technology.
Take a Drink: for every idea ripped off from a different spy action movie.