REVIEW: Anna doesn’t quite know what it wants to be

Monday film reviewer Robert Moyes not impressed with the latest Russian femme fatale flick

Robert Moyes

Monday Magazine movie reviewer

For anyone who’s allergic to wholesomeness and feels awkward experiencing the tender charms of Toy Story 4, yet is also unwilling to spend two hours in the dubious company of Chucky the murderous doll in the reboot of Child’s Play – there’s hope!

Well, sort of. Cartoonish if not a cartoon, and often animated, Anna is the latest hard-edged actioner from writer-director Luc Besson, the style-conscious maestro of mayhem who bears responsibility for everything from The Fifth Element to La Femme Nikita.

Besson’s latest movie apes the recent trend of beautiful but deadly female assassins (Atomic Blonde, Red Sparrow). The eponymous Anna (Russian ex-model Sasha Luss) is living a sketchy life of drugs and prostitution when she is recruited by the KGB and sent to assassin college (happily we’re spared the typical training sequence).

Later she’s working in Paris as a glamorous model, but it’s just a ploy to get her close to her first target. Soon enough, as dead bodies begin to litter the European landscape, Anna comes to the attention of the CIA – in particular, Lenny Miller (striking Irish actor Cillian Murphy), who thinks she might make a useful double agent – and a delightful romantic partner.

That’s the outline of the story, which is tricked out with lots of time shifts that reveal entertaining plot twists as our understanding of what’s actually happening gets turned right around. There are a couple of impressively choreographed action set pieces, with balletic ultra-violence and a body count that would make John Wick smirk in approval. But Anna wants to be a character study and not just an action flick, and the storyline occasionally gets bogged down in existential gloominess and ponderous references to Chekov and Dostoyevsky.

The performances are adequate, especially that of Murphy, who brings some welcome wit to his role as the CIA agent with mixed motives. Luss has charisma and some acting skills, but doesn’t quite rise to the level of the similarly beautiful and similarly accented Milla Jovovich. And the usually reliable Helen Mirren fails to distinguish herself as a ruthless old boot of a KGB boss, relying mostly on a delicatessen accent and an affected way of holding a cigarette to create character.

In short, this is a guilty pleasure … that’s guilty of not being quite pleasurable enough.

Rating: **

Stars Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy

Directed by Luc Besson

COMING SOON:

The Lion King

Jon Favreau may become king of the summer movie scene as the director of this live-action (albeit mostly CGI) Disney remake, which is rumoured to be amazing. With the voices of Donald Glover, Beyoncé and James Earl Jones.

21 Bridges

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) and Sienna Miller star in a crime thriller about an NYPD detective who is hunting down a pair of cop killers … only to discover the outlines of a sinister conspiracy.

Midsommar

Ari Aster, the director of Hereditary, once again brings on the horror in this disturbing tale of a young couple that is vacationing in Sweden – only to realize that their too-charming little village is providing cover for a shocking cult.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

One of the most successful movie franchises ever goes into expansion mode with its first spinoff, as stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham drive at high speeds and contemplate tricky heists. Idris Elba shows up to join the fun.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino has set his latest film in the Los Angeles of 1969, juxtaposing the glamour of Hollywood and the depravity of Charles Manson. The killer cast includes Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning … and more!

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