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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

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.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

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 system when Burton did it (even…

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.