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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

Blake's 7 4.13: Blake

The best you can hope for the end of a series is that it leaves you wanting more. Blake certainly does that, so much so that I lapped up Tony Attwood’s Afterlife when it came out. I recall his speculation over who survived and who didn’t in his Programme Guide (curious that he thought Tarrant was unlikely to make it and then had him turn up in his continuation). Blakefollows the template of previous season finales, piling incident upon incident until it reaches a crescendo.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.