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

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.