Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Anna is a spy/action/thriller far heavier on style than it is on action, plot or character. It is one of those genre exercises built entirely on narrative cleverness. It exists to trick the viewer by showing them one thing, then doubling (or tripling) back to show how we (and the characters) were fooled. That type of approach usually annoys me, but writer/director Luc Besson is so straightforward with his intentions, stuffing a relatively simple story with excess, and has so much fun with it, that I kind of enjoyed playing the “okay, what is really going on?” game. The story makes enough sense, there are a couple of good action scenes and Besson definitely knows how to use his actors for their presence, even if there is little to the characters they are portraying. Anna is not a “good” movie, per se; though it is entertaining in a trashy way.
Anna is a KGB hit woman who works as a model because it gives her easy access to potential targets. More than that I cannot say without giving away too much. The plot also involves Alex, the spy who rescued her from her junkie past, Olga, her gruff handler, and Lenny Miller, a determined CIA agent. Plenty of double and triple-crossing and illicit romances abound.
Anna (113 minutes without the end credits) is a whole lot of style covering up a very small amount of substance. The story, once you get past the trickiness, is surprisingly thin. It is also extremely reminiscent of Besson’s own La Femme Nikita. That was about a young woman saved from prison by a covert agency that trains her to be an assassin. This is a stripped down version of the same plot, leaning on cool visuals and time-jumping editing in lieu of making its protagonist a three-dimensional figure.
We begin with a 1985-set prologue that, even when its relevance is explained, is completely superfluous. Then it moves forward five years, then back three, forward, back, over and over again. Each time, Besson intentionally leaves gaps or inconsistencies so he can surprise us by filling them in later. Your enjoyment of Anna likely depends on your tolerance for such screenwriting shenanigans.
The characters are chess pieces moved around at the convenience of the plot. All the actors need to do is look good in their costumes and recite the dialogue they have been given. As Anna, Sasha Luss’ job is to be equally convincing whether she is modeling or shooting people in the head. I am unsure how talented she is as an actress because talent is not called for here. Though she is good in a scene where she has to kill a group of bodyguards so she can eliminate their boss. The choreography is good, but she also brings an urgency and desperation to her movements that makes it feel more suspenseful than any other scene in the movie. Luke Evans, Helen Mirren and Cillian Murphy fill out the other significant parts. Only Mirren makes an impact. As Anna’s sort-of mentor, she has the most life of anyone onscreen.
Anna works to the extent it does because its creator overcomplicated it to hide its thinness. This will certainly not be remembered anywhere near as fondly as his previous hit woman stories, such as Nikita or The Professional. In fact, it very much feels like Besson is ripping himself off, but with a new coat of paint so viewers will not notice. I noticed and so will most viewers familiar with him. However, the gimmick is applied skillfully enough that I did not really care. This is one of those movies that might play a little better at home, with your attention slightly divided. For fans of the genre, it is a decently exciting diversion.
3 out of 5
Cast: Sasha Luss as Anna
Helen Mirren as Olga
Luke Evans as Alex Tchenkov
Cillian Murphy as Lenny Miller
Lera Abova as Maud
Written and Directed by Luc Besson