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Luc Besson’s latest spy thriller 'Anna' fails to impress

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, June 26, 2019  /  03:07 pm
Luc Besson’s latest spy thriller 'Anna' fails to impress

A still from 'Anna.' (EuropaCorp/File)

Anna, the latest film by acclaimed French writer-director Luc Besson, styles itself as a Cold War-era spy thriller starring Russian model Sasha Luss as a femme fatale working for the KGB.

Unfortunately, while its marketing may have aimed to capitalize on audiences’ newfound appreciation for action-oriented movies, Anna’s misguided plot and bland characters fail to raise this film beyond the mediocre. 

The film’s opening seems promising, as American agents drop like flies at the hands of the KGB. However, that tension is undermined as the rest of the first act is unfortunately meandering yet jarring. The film doesn’t seem to know what to focus on: Anna’s backstory, her discontent with indentured servitude to the KGB or her personal relationships.

This underdevelopment seems to permeate the film, especially since the characters’ relationships are not given enough time to become authentic. This is obvious when it comes to Anna’s supposed love interests, and among the three of them, the romance is spread much too thin.

Luke Owens portrays Alexei, Anna’s colleague in the KGB who vouches for her, but their relationship appears to never develop beyond that, their conversations occurring merely over the phone or at work. For Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy), the CIA agent who investigates Anna’s trail of assassinations, and eventually convinces her to work for the Americans, the relationship is even more rushed. The cold, calculating CIA agent appears nonsensically transfixed with romancing Anna, suddenly letting his guard down. Finally, her lover Maud (Lera Abova), is supposed to provide a sense of normalcy to contrast Anna’s high intensity secret life, but she is rendered a mere accessory by the complete lack of interest Anna seems to show her.  

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The fact is the script never lets these actors portray a character that goes beyond the basic necessities of the plot. The result is relationships that seem flat and undeveloped, so when Besson includes explicit romantic scenes they feel gratuitous and unearned.

Audiences may hope the film’s strengths lie in its action, as thrillers with brutal yet grounded action sequences, such as the John Wick trilogy, have proven popular. Unfortunately, the trailers for the film show off its first and best action scene. Aside from this scene, which is hampered by its rapid cuts, there is scarcely any combat, and when an action sequence does roll around during the film’s climax, it is frankly cartoonish.

In regard to the action, one of the most noticeable incongruencies in the film is that despite emphasis on Anna’s espionage, nearly every conflict seems to be resolved with assassination. This is not to contradict a desire for more compelling action, rather a call for realism. Because it seems that when assassination does occur, it is in broad daylight during extended fight scenes or rendered formulaic through montage. An inkling of what could have been is during Anna’s first mission, where the execution of her mission (and her target) is done with realistic efficiency and her escape from the premises relies on ingenuity. 

Additionally, one of the most frustrating aspects of the movie is its plot structure. Best described as disorganized, Besson is oddly stubborn in his commitment to an achronological plot, but each time the film flashbacks to an earlier event, it is jarring and does a disservice. While the first time Besson does this may effectively shed light on Anna’s background and why she is uniquely poised to be a super spy, every subsequent time it occurs, it cheapens the scene. 

The audience is forced to rewatch scenes and dialogue when the current events and the flashback align chronologically, and there is little to be gained from seeing the same events repeated from an imperceptibly different perspective. Frankly, it is confusing why Besson would consistently undermine shock and tension by jarringly slowing down the pace of the film by explaining each of these shocking scenes through expository flashbacks. By the time the third act is about to end, and the inevitable plot twist rolls around, the title card that reads: “Three months earlier…” elicits an audible groan. 

There is no single overarching plot thread, merely a loose collection of scenes. We are simply going through the motions of Anna’s life as a spy, as opposed to being imbued with a sense of urgency. The exciting premise of a double agent desperately trying to escape from a life forced into oppressive espionage is squandered.

Overall, Anna attempts to balance its action, espionage and romance, however it unfortunately fails to stand out in every category, rendering the film below average. (nic/kes)

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