Running time:118 minutes
Written and Directed by: Luc Besson
Featuring: Sasha Luss , Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren, and Alexander Petrov
Anna: “I work for the KGB, baby.”
Recently released on Blu-ray/DVD is the latest action movie from French writer/director Luc Besson in the form of “Anna” (2019), it has to be said something of a let down after the heavily stylised and bonkers “Lucy” (2014) and the science fiction/fantasy of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017), both of these are in their own ways complete opposites but as Besson is every bit the styled filmmaker that Ridley Scott is they look and feel incredible. However like Scott, the weakness with Besson are the plots that he frames his films with, they can be uneven as well as feeling a little long winded with a touch of the blowhard. It is unfortunate then that “Anna” is not one of Besson’s best efforts, it feels like a weaker copy of Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” (2011) but set in Russia, without the leading lady or the incredible supporting cast, a missed opportunity indeed to create a strong female lead that did not pander to anyone.
It may be difficult for some to stomach Luc Besson even as he was embroiled in a #meetoo controversy this movie was in release so was tainted by that, it has not slowed him down as he has multiple movies in production at the moment. One may forget that Besson in many of his movies has either had strong women at the centre or as major parts of plots that are still being used today, he own “Le Femme Nikita” (1990) has been the basis for two television shows, one US remake and multiple ripoffs or homages to be kind. In fact look at Besson’s filmography at it is full of pre-#metoo movies that still resonate today such as the already mentioned “La Femme Nikita”, but there is also “Léon: The Professional “(1994), “The Fifth Element” (1997), “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (1999), “Angel-A” (2005), “The Lady” (2011) as well as the already mentioned “Lucy”. Even in the movies where there seems like a male lead the instigators of those movies are women, strong ones at that. There are few directors working today that have based their movies almost entirely around the idea of what it is to be a woman with agency operating in a what may have been considered a mans world.
That is not to say there have not been disappointments, of which “Anna” is one, mainly because Besson in his mind saw this action/thriller as something different to what it has ended up on screen as. What may have started out as the potential to set up a franchise set in Russia with a new face and some loftier ambitions has been reduced to something that should have gone to. a streaming service as a guilty pleasure, although pleasure may be stretching it.
The movie concerns the titular Anna, a young Russian beauty who has been the victim of domestic abuse, will do anything to escape the life she is trapped in. In a twist of fate, she reluctantly accepts an offer by KGB officer Alex. After a year of training, she is to work as a KGB assassin for five years under a handler named Olga, after which she will be free to continue her life as she pleases. KGB head Vassiliev is not willing to honour this agreement, implying that the only way out of the KGB is death.
Written and Directed by Besson this sees him rippling off himself in seemingly using the classic “La Femme Nikita” as a sort of template which is a little too obvious in this day and age. The inherent weakness here is using someone like model Sasha Luss to bring to screen his script as she does not (yet).have the chops to try and interpret the role beyond the page, unlike in “Lucy” where lead Scarlet Johansson knew just how to play the ridiculous into a perceived reality. As her duelling love interests, Cillian Murphy and Luke Evans struggle to rise above the dross they signed up to which leaves it up to Mirren to have some campy fun as a heartless anti-matriarch figure. Other than that the real shock is that this is just not a well directed movie, the action scenes fall flat, there is no emotion and Besson seems distracted, like he had the money to make something and this was best he could do on short notice.
This is a movie that cries out to be like Besson’s best movies something more about than what is appearing onscreen, but instead of striving for that we are given genre drivel that would have been more at home in the 1980s or 1990s. Here we have an under talented actress who is dressed like she is in a heavy metal video, has facile relationships and appears in sex scenes simply because she was told to. There is no commentary on what it is like to be her or how she actually feels about what happens to her onscreen. It feels odd after all the high points of a career that at his age this is what he serves up, the difference between him and Scott could not be any different in 2020. Think about Scott’s movies, even his last two ‘Alien’ movies with Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Katherine Waterson all leads, and illustrating how their roles work within the parameters of their own worlds. Nothing like that exists here, it is all surface, a boys imagination of how a woman should be seen, not felt.