Anna (2019)

Photo by Shanna Besson

Get to the embassy.  You’ve been compromised.

You know you’re in deep trouble when a movie’s opening line sounds like something from Threat Level Midnight, Michael Scott’s homemade spy epic in The Office.  Indeed, the script’s first act is so awash with secret agent clichés that it puts the entire movie into what pilots refer to as “an unrecoverable stall.”  Built on an annoyingly jumbled narrative, Anna combines derivative action scenes and slapdash* performances in a film that tries to remake La Femme Nikita into The Bourne Idiocy.

This express elevator to hell kicks off when…wait a minute–how does this movie start again?  Oh yeah:  The embassy, people compromised.  It’s Mother Russia in the 1980s, and double agents are getting exposed and shot.  Turns out, the KGB has a ruthless new spymaster (Eric Gordon) who plans to light a fire under the Cold War.  Meanwhile, Anna is a beautiful, impoverished young woman (Sasha Luss) who finds herself recruited into the agency by a smooth operator (Luke Evans).  He makes her a deal:  Kill without question, survive for five years, and you can lead any life you want.  When that offer turns out to be a sham, Anna has to play her icy handler (Helen Mirren) against a nosy CIA agent (Cillian Murphy) in order to break away from the grind of whacking people in hotel bedrooms .

If I’ve made any of that sound cohesive, it came at great cost.  I found that gleaning anything from this movie’s plot is not unlike straightening a slinky.  Writer-director Luc Besson (who made Nikita and Leon, for God’s sake) insists on having the story jump from one timeline to the next, like a record needle during an earthquake.  Five years earlier.  Three years later.  6 months ago.  Present day.  Three months ago.  2 years ago.  No joke–that’s how this movie flows.  This bouncing around doesn’t necessarily make the movie hard to follow, it’s just relentlessly obnoxious.  If you ever start getting even a little bit of interest in any of this, get ready for the script to pinball in another direction with a buncha scenes that will undercut everything that’s gone on before.  More than anything, Anna is too cute for its own good.

Most of the cast seems appropriately bored.  Mirren adopts a moose-and-squirrel accent and unloads her dialogue like she’s reading pharmaceutical side effects off a teleprompter.  As the two bureaucrats, Murphy and Evans get squandered, and they act like they know it, too.  Luss tries the hardest, but this movie is such a dry well that it’s difficult to imagine any actor could drink from it.  Besson’s action scenes seem copy-and-pasted from the Bourne and Bond franchises.  For all its flaws, I will give it this:  Anna boasts the rare distinction of being bloody and boring at the same time.

118 min.  R.

(* For the record, I love the word “slapdash.”  Try and say it to yourself and not smile.  It’s like saying something sucks, but in a really fancy way.)

Author: Todd Wofford

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