Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2018)
A new entry in the “female assassin” genre, 2020’s Ava introduces us to the title character. Ava Faukner (Jessica Chastain) serves as a cool, efficient killer for a secret organization.
As time passes, though, Ava starts to question her career choices. After she beats some addictions, Ava finds herself more guilt-ridden about the deaths she executes.
However, Ava can’t easily extricate herself from her past. While she attempts to reconcile with her estranged family, she also tries to simply stay alive.
Director Tate Taylor’s biggest success behind the camera unquestionably came with 2011’s The Help. Not only did it bring in a tidy $216 million worldwide – a nice profit for a movie that only cost $25 million – but also it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
To Taylor’s credit, he branched out with his subsequent flicks and didn’t stay in the same genre as The Help. From there, he went to 2014’s musical biopic Get On Up, 2016’s psychological thriller The Girl on the Train, and 2019’s horror tale Ma.
While I admire Taylor’s willingness to branch out, that doesn’t mean I view him as a particularly good filmmaker. “Watchable but flawed” tended to be my view of each of those earlier films.
At its best, that’s what I can say for Ava. A disjointed and surprisingly dull tale, the movie really doesn’t go much of anywhere.
Ava attempts to meld action beats with a character journey that feels cribbed from a self-help book. While Ava’s personal path attempts to add depth to the proceedings, instead it simply feels underdeveloped and phony.
As I alluded at the start, Ava comes from a crowded genre, so it needs to find a way to stand out from the crowd. However, the threads about Ava’s addictions and family issues don’t work, as they come across as contrived and artificial.
If the action scenes compensated, these flaws probably wouldn’t matter as much, but Taylor can’t pull off the violent moments well. Perhaps I shouldn’t place too much blame on Taylor, as he apparently came into the film late in the game after the original director got fired.
Still, a dull end product remains a dull end product, whatever the circumstances that led to its creation. If Taylor enjoyed a stronger filmography, I’d be more willing to offer the benefit of the doubt that his last-minute entry into the proceedings impacted his ability to tell the tale, but nothing in his past lends credence to that notion.
Ava does boast a strong cast, as in addition to Chastain, we find Colin Farrell, Common, Geena Davis, John Malkovich and others. None manage much with their roles, and Chastain simply feels wrong as our lead. She does better in the “character moments” than the action bits, but she doesn’t seem like a good fit in general.
Nothing about Ava makes it an embarrassment to those involved, but it still stands as a fairly blah product. Even with a narrative that lends toward violence and tension, it seems slow and lackluster.