Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 5, 2020)
Back in 1990, Luc Besson made a splash as the writer/director of La Femme Nikita, an action flick about a female assassin. 2019 brought a new effort in a similar vein via Anna.
In Moscow circa 1990, Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) lives a modest life, but all this changes when she gets recruited to become a model. This sends her to Paris and a radically different kind of existence.
However, it turns out that Anna’s career as a model acts as a cover for a different occupation: assassin. After years of deadly training, she uses this ruse to complete assignments, though inevitably, complications arise.
With films like Nikita, Leon and Fifth Element, Besson enjoyed a strong 90s. Even though it disappointed many, I even liked 1999’s historical epic The Messenger.
Perhaps related to that flick’s commercial failure and iffy reviews, Besson retreated from the director’s chair for a few years, though he had some success as a writer. Still, he didn’t direct another “Besson-style” movie until 2013’s The Family.
That one didn’t do much business. Very much in the Fifth Element vein, 2017’s Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets made $225 million worldwide, but with a budget of $177 million, it lost money.
In between, Besson directed 2014’s Lucy, yet another flick about a deadly, sexy female. However, this one found an audience, and with a budget of only $40 million, it turned a big profit via its $458 worldwide gross.
Besson failed to replicate that success with Anna. Because it cost only $30 million, it didn’t lose the buckets of cash suffered by Valerian, but since it brought in a hair under $31 million, it turned into another financial disappointment.
Maybe this occurred because Anna offers a wholly mediocre movie. While never a truly bad film, it seems oddly uninspired and flat.
Some of this comes from the story’s structure, as Besson mixes an apparently never-ending mix of flashbacks. These tend to feel superfluous and clumsy.
I suspect Besson figured all the back and forth would keep the audience on edge, but instead, we simply see the tale as confused. The chronological skips don’t feel organic, and they add nothing that wouldn’t work in a more straightforward narrative.
I get it: Besson wants the reveal that Anna acts as an assassin to come as a surprise. Of course, most viewers already saw trailers so they’ll know about this twist, but still, I understand his desire to make this a “big reveal”.
Besson didn’t need to muddy so many waters along the way, though. The flashbacks bring no greater impact to events, and they feel tacked on and semi-pointless.
Even without these choices, Anna simply lacks a compelling story. The film fails to develop Anna as much more than a fairly one-dimensional character, and the various plot complications don’t threaten to bring intrigue or excitement.
The use of Luss as our lead becomes a negative. Prior to Anna, her entire acting career consisted of a fairly small role in Valerian, and she lacks the gravity to pull off this part.
Sure, Luss looks right for the character, which should come as no surprise. Luss actually is a Russian fashion model, so it doesn’t turn into a stretch for her to resemble one.
Unfortunately, Luss displays little in terms of acting chops, so she creates a wan, forgettable presence as the main character. She also doesn’t display much impact during the action scenes, most of which rely on quick-cutting and cinematic tricks to convey any sense of excitement.
Given the nature of his career, Besson should be able to pull off thrilling sequences with ease, but the action beats of Anna seem perfunctory at best. Some of this may relate to Luss’s limitations, and some may connect to the banal stab at plot exploration
Whatever the case, Anna fails on the most basic level. Who wants to see an action movie with uninspiring action scenes?
To be sure, I’ve seen worse films than Anna, as it maintains too much professionalism to totally flop. Also, it tosses out a good supporting cast, and Helen Mirren’s campy turn as Anna’s handler almost redeems the movie.
Almost. Never better than mediocre, Anna delivers a wholly forgettable action tale.