Skip to main content

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna
(2019)

(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

Even Atomic Blonde’s lesser sibling, the also Cold War-set Red Sparrow is ahead of Anna on the lead performer front. One of the most forgivable aspects of the assembly-line action vehicles released by Besson’s production company EuropaCorp is that they’ve had the habit of casting memorable and/or established lead actors to soup up the (sometimes, not so much when Oliver Megaton was involved) dynamic, explosive balleticism of its directors. From Neeson to Costner to – yes – the Stath, this did the company well. And in his directorial career, Besson has been recognised for his keen choices of female leads, from Anne Parillaud to Milla Jovovich to Michelle Yeoh and er, Scarlett Johansen (actually, perhaps we should forget about Lucy).

Generally, he seemed to have as good an eye for casting as staging an action sequence, but such notions were seriously skewered by the dual lead/chemistry vacuum of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a bomb that all-but brought down the production house (pending a buy-out). And now comes the much more modest undertaking that is Anna, which again seems to be a blunder on Besson’s part, hand picking model Sasha Luss (whose sole prior acting role was as an alien in Valerian) to play top KGB super spy (and, natch, model as one of her covers) Anna Poliatova.

Luss isn’t outright awful, but she’s a consistent blank slate, and not in a good kind of way that makes you ask what’s going on beneath the impassive exterior. Any kind of probing just bounces off her, because there’s nothing to probe. Her co-stars – Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy and Luke Evans among them – do their best to help her through, but the kindest thing you can say is that she, or her stunt double, moves well during the set pieces. One has to assume a degree of hubris on Besson’s part here, a desire to prove he could fashion a star, that he didn’t need Charlize Theron, or Johansson for that matter (the global success of Lucy remains one of the more mystifying box office developments of the past decade).

Besson’s screenplay is self-consciously tricksy, again modelled on the who’s-working-for-whom reveals of Atomic Blonde, but mostly it isn’t nearly as much fun when it offers them up; the five-minutes-late-back-from-a-hit, where it turns out Anna was contacted by the CIA, is easily the best of them – the final see-it-coming-a-mile off “killing” of Anna by Olga easily the worst – but they do keep the picture sufficiently lively and motivated. Overall, though, Anna’s lacking the kind of crude grandstanding in the supporting parts that James McAvoy brought to Blonde. Mirren is truly great, working on her role as Anna’s handler like a chain-smoking trooper, but she can’t single-handedly elevate this into something special, while Murphy’s CIA guy performance is only noteworthy for his seemingly having decided on a studious impression of Kevin Bacon.

Still, Besson continues to show great chops when it comes to action, and there’s a single-handed restaurant takedown early in the proceedings that’s both dizzy and delirious in its relentlessness. Later, something similar ensues at KGB headquarters, with Anna attacked from all sides as she attempts to escape intact. There’s also an amusingly edited murder montage set to INXS’ Need You Tonight that effectively punctuates gunshots to the song’s percussive beats (I have to say, though, the implications of an INXS track ending on a strangulation entirely escaped me). However, the soundtrack’s mostly made up of an atypically insipid score from frequent Besson collaborator Eric Serra (Nikita, Leon and The Fifth Element, as well as curate’s egg Goldeneye).

I seem to recall a point in the early 00s when Besson announced his retirement from directing, which naturally didn’t last too long (but there was a six-year gap between The Messenger and Angel-A). Nothing he’s done since his “return” has come near to his ‘90s heyday in terms of consistency, although I’d vouch for the underrated The Family, and for the opening sequence of Valerian (possibly the finest movie music montage this century, and additionally worthy of praise for making Space Oddity seem fresh again, a virtual impossibility). Anna is, as others have pointed out, not much more than a reheat of themes and plotlines we’ve already seen in Nikita and Leon, serviceable enough, and agreeable as a time-passer, but entirely disposable.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .