Anna (2019) Review
A VERY FAMILIAR (AND RECYCLED)
FEMALE ASSASSIN THRILLER
Nowadays, spy movies are a dime of dozen; enticing viewers into a cinematic tale of a secretive covert world of spies, espionage, and political intrigue. Of course, the James Bond franchise instantly come to a person’s mind as the prime example, but there have been others, including the Mission Impossible franchise and the Jack Ryan series as well as other “one and done” endeavors like Salt, The Good Shepherd, and the Red Sparrow just to name a few. Now, Summit Entertainment and director Luc Besson present the latest spy motion picture with the film Anna. Does the movie stand out and rise to occasion of its political espionage aspects or is it a lifeless dud?
Living in Russia, Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) is a beautiful woman, but her current life is not; living with her boyfriend Petyr (Alexander Petrov) and trapped in horrible existence of living a destitute life of domestic abuse and no way of escape. In a turning point of her life, Anna gets an unexpected offer by KGB officer Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) by leading the young woman away from the horrors of her current predicament and molding her into a trained assassin for Russia’s secretive agency. With her natural beauty and combat training, Anna is shaped into a perfect weapon for the KGB use on operations, which is overseeing by Alex’s superior Olga (Helen Mirren) that pleases both their bosses, KGB General Vassiliev (Eric Godon). However, as her time with the KGB grows, Anna, who poses as fashion model for her covert, grows tired and weary of the excessive duties that she must perform, longing for the freedom that she was promised. During one particular mission, Anna comes across CIA operative Leonard Miller (Cillan Murphy), who becomes suspicious of the fashion model’s whereabouts and dealings; an action which would set in motion a series of events that poses a threat to Anna’s life, but also a way out for the freedom she desperately longs before.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I stated above, spy movies have become its own staple subgenre within the variety of theatrical feature films with a plethora of selective entries that utilizes the secretive world of spies and espionage narrative as well as interjecting various subgenres styles for a flavor. Like I said, the James Bond series is a perfect example of spy movies and some of my personal favorite (i.e. Moonraker, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, Skyfall, etc.), but there have been others that have followed close behind. Like I mentioned, the Mission Impossible series has been pretty good (following more in the lines of spy nuances and action bravado) as well as some of the comical parody spoof entries I’ve personally found quite entertaining like 2015’s Spy and 2008’s Get Smart. In contrast, there have been also “old school” slow burner spy thrillers out there like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (love the cast) to more historical period ones like Atomic Blonde to more contemporary beats like 2010’s Salt. I could go on and on about other movies, but you get my point. Suffice to say that spy movies have been indeed around for some time and (with the right filmmaking mechanics) can be quite entertaining through its cinematic narratives.
Anna is a 2019 film that offers up the latest spin on the subgenre of spy movies. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie (online, of course) that was until I saw the film’s movie trailer a few months prior to the feature’s release. Personally, I was intrigued to see it as it looked stylish and had plenty to offer (in terms of cinematic nuances), but I also had a feeling (in the back of my mind) that I’ve seeing this type of storytelling before….as if the movie was trying to emulate the same formula that has been done before. Still, the trailer for Anna looked more promising than warding me off, so I decided to give the movie a chance and saw during its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, it’s a mixture of good and bad as Anna is entertaining enough to entice viewers within its presentation, but fails with a choppy pacing and inconsistent / convoluted pacing and storytelling. It’s stylish and has intrigue, but lacks the special “it” factor in its substance and execution.
Anna is directed by Luc Besson, whose past directorial works includes such movies like Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Given his wide range of various films projects (i.e. action thrillers, animated features, and sci-fi epics), Besson has certainly done a variety of feature film projects with some better than others. In approaching Anna, Besson takes a stab at the political spy / espionage, which certainly does a certain amount of charm and entertainment value that the director brings to the proceedings….in a way inherit way. Basically, if you love a spy drama motion picture, you’ll definitely will find something about Anna to your liking. Much like his work on La Femme Nikita, Besson (whether intentionally or unintentionally) draws a similar inspiration to directing Anna by having the lead character (i.e. a female) prove that she’s capable of handling herself in many sticky situations as well as being a badass. Thus, story of the film begins to take shape, with Besson pulling double duty as the film’s screenplay writer. There’s a lot of common tropes to be found (more on that below), but what’s presented is interesting (to a certain degree) that allows the film to toy around with plenty of spy / espionage nuances that will pleases most viewers out there.
Anna’s presentation is actually pretty good. While it probably won’t win any type of awards during the award season, but the technical presentation of Besson’s movie holds its own. What do I mean? Well, the film itself definitely has a well-polished feel to it, with a glossy framing of the narrative, which shows the high style of life of wealth and fashion as well as the grim and dank corridors of Russia’s KGB’s headquarters. Additionally, since the movie takes place in Europe, there’s plenty of sight to see (in the background) for an international spy adventure, which is quite fun. Thus, several members of the “behind the scenes team” of Anna, including Thierry Arbogast (cinematography), Hugues Tissandier (production design), and Evelyne Tissandier (set decorations) do some fine work in bringing the movie’s various background settings to life. Another big highlight in its presentation is some of the costume wardrobe outfits for several of the film’s characters…. most notably a lot of the outfits for the character Anna. So, big kudos for costume designer Olivier Bériot. Also, the film’s score, which was done by Eric Serra is pretty good. Its nothing to rush out a buy the soundtrack for it, but it’s not enough to make the film’s sequences (be it action, dramatic moments, or just character dialogue scenes) resonate threw musical composition pieces.
Problems do quickly arise with Anna, which do make the feature far less desirable and more of hodgepodge mess. Perhaps the biggest problem that the movie faces is in its choppy storytelling. What do I mean? Well, Besson keeps the story switching back and forth between many events, which makes the time period of these sequences quite perplexing and sort of makes a person’s interest (myself included) to lose well…interest the main narrative. There’s a right way to handle time jumping back and forth between different time period of events within a movie, but Besson’s Anna has a difficult time in approaching that task. Sure, its an admirable attempt to convey secrecy in trying to make a viewer’s attention “guess” what’s gonna happen next, but (more often than not) backfires in its approach; creating a choppy editing cut of events and sequences throughout the entire film. Personally, it would’ve been better with a more standard approach in storytelling….and Anna probably would’ve flowed better as well.
Another problem with the film is that, despite the attempts in Besson’s direction, Anna just feels too generic and does lack a strong / wholesome narrative substance within its spy / espionage movie world. As stated in the opening paragraph, the whole spy / political espionage genre has been done and redone many times, with most usually finding a groove within the setting of US and Russia and the spy agents and governmental intrigue within these two superpower countries (i.e. reminiscing of the Cold War time era). To that effect, Anna certainly does feel like that (in that capacity), but Besson never truly takes “the dive” into making the feature go beyond the surface level stuff. So, there’s a lot of familiarities when seeing Anna. What do I mean? Well, there’s a little James Bond, a little Jason Bourne, and a little Salt, a little Red Sparrow (as well as a few others), which makes the feature feel generic within its own narrative and ends up drumming up clichés within the film genre than others have done. The story is there, but just not deep enough of what the movie could’ve been. Even more honest…. I was quite bored with the movie. The action scenes never really stood out at being memorable (vaguely reminded me of recycled fights of other features) and not a whole lot happens in the first half. Because of this, Anna only comes up with a few surprises, but most of them can be seeing come (if you pay attention). Plus, there’s a whole love triangle that Besson tries to drum up within the character of Anna (as well as female love interest for Anna as well), but most of it is rendered in a very moot point that the payoff for all of it is underwhelming and undercooked. Perhaps Besson’s “double duty” as director / story script writer comes into play. The end result is something that sounds good on paper, but lacks substance within its execution and in storytelling.
Additionally, barring one main action sequence, the film’s movie trailer showcases a lot of the feature big highlight points, which rendered the viewing of the film a bit underwhelming as I saw a lot of these important snippets of Anna within its marketing preview. That’s disappointing.
The cast in Anna is actually fairly good, with the main roster of characters being of recognizable faces from other film projects. At the head of the pack is actress Sasha Luss, who plays the film’s titular main lead of Anna Poliatova. Mostly known for her modeling career, Luss has also performed in Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (in a supporting role as Princess Lïhio-Minaa), which was probably one of the reasons why she got the part (or at least front running position for the role of Anna). Surprisingly, despite not having hefty career background in acting, Luss does turn a fine performance in the film’s title character. She’s definitely easy on the eyes and all the various costume wardrobe outfits look great on her (again, the costume designs in the film are great), but she certainly gives the character of Anna a certain type of depth and enough sympathy to make us (the viewers) root for her in her journey of being a cover assassin in a game of political powerplays and maneuvers. The character isn’t exactly new or original, but Luss’s performance sort of elevates those criticisms (or it can be overlooked) to make her portrayal of Anna in a favorable light throughout the movie.
In larger supporting roles are the film’s three “big names” acting talents of the movie, with actors Cillan Murphy and Luke Evans and actress Helen Mirren playing pivotal supporting roles that make up Anna’s challenges of mentor / lover interest figures in the movie. Murphy, known for his roles in Batman Begins, Inception, and Peaky Blinders, is fine in the role of CIA operative agent Leonard Miller, who takes a close interest in Anna’s activities, while Evans, known for his roles in Fast and the Furious 6, Beauty and the Beast, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is suitable in the role of Alex Tchenkov, an member of the KGB who takes Anna under his wing to train as an assassin for Russia. Likewise, Mirren, known for her roles in The Queen, Gosford Park, and RED, is amusing as Olga, a member of the KGB (Alex Tchenkov’s superior) who takes an interest in Anna’s unique talents. Collectively, these three roles are all played by fine acting talents, which do make the characters interesting, but to be quite honest…. none of them will be remembered for their roles in this movie, for the character themselves aren’t quite compelling as they could’ve been; acting as commonplace spy / espionage tropes clichés of either a American CIA operative lead man or official ranking members of Russia’s KGB organization. Lastly, much like what I said above, the character Maud (Anna’s female love interest), who is played by actress Lera Abova (making her acting debut with the movie) seems poised to be an interesting subplot of a minor character. However, despites Abova’s portrayal of the character, which is pretty good, doesn’t really mean much to the film’s main plotline and actually sort of gets lost within the story being told. And that’s disappointing.
Rounding out the cast are several minor characters, including actor Andrew Howard (The Outpost and Watchmen) as Oleg, actor Eric Godon (In Bruges and The Missing) as KGB General Vassiliev, actor Alexander Petrov (Attraction and Ice) as Anna’s cruel / former boyfriend Piotr, and actor Nikita Pavlenko (Elastiko and Pyatnitsa) as Vlad. These characters, though played by fine acting talents, are, more or less, servants to the plot in Anna; offering up problems placement in the narrative progression.
Prove her worthy to the KGB and her chance of freedom, Anna becomes a deadly assassin, but finds out that she’s has to play this dangerous game of lies, deceit, and espionage with her superiors and in others in the movie Anna. Director Luc Besson latest feature takes another stab into the espionage / spy genre, providing an intriguing story of a young woman, who gets swept up and entangled in agendas and missions for her country’s secretive interests. While the technical presentation is quite good (costumes and wardrobe) and the acting talents featured in the movie are welcomed and fun, the film lacks a firm conviction within its own narrative context by producing a derivate story, a convoluted plot / execution, a choppy film progression, and some confusing elements throughout. Personally, I thought that this movie was just okay. It held my interest throughout its runtime, but just felt generic at certain points, confusing / repetitive in others, and lacking substance within its characters / storytelling. It’s not exactly a disaster of a movie, but neither is it to be considered a good one. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a combination of a “Rent It / Skip it” as some might find the movie to their liking, but it’s best to see it when it comes on home release (or when it comes to TV) later on. Everyone else, however, won’t find it enough interesting to differentiate itself from other espionage spy endeavors. In the end, Anna is flashy and holds some entertainment value, but is a generic spy feature that has more of a glossy finish than well-rounded substance.
2.9 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: June 21st, 2019
Reviewed On: July 13th, 2019
Anna is 119 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content