My notes on Luc Besson’s Anna.
Luc Besson has managed to sustain two parallel careers – as a director/visionary of eclectic, ambitious, fantastical bande dessinee style adventures (Subway, The Fifth Element, Lucy, The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) with an especial emphasis on creating strong, strange heroines … meanwhile, writing and producing smaller-scale, less fantastical action films which sometimes yield franchises (Taken, Banlieu 13, Taxi, Transporter). Lately, with the failure of the curate’s egg Valerian and a batch of #metoo accusations, he’s not been in a good career place … which might explain why this feels like the sort of thing he’d usually hand off to an Olivier Megaton or Louis Leterrier to direct. It has a lot of plot elements in common with his Nikita, an earlier mix of his strange heroine/action melodrama modes, but it also comes along as a smaller-scale version of Red Sparrow or Atomic Blonde – films influenced by Besson, which puts him in the awkward position of imitating his cover versions of his own style. It has other problems too, including a jumping-back-and-forth narrative that keeps filling in the blanks without being all that interesting and harping on that same old same old of feuding spy organisations who are both threats to the triple agent heroine and the predictable thread of the heroine getting out of the killing game by playing her bosses off against each other.
It’s especially strange that the film is more or less set c. 1990 – with flashes back and forward – but acts as if the Cold War between the US and USSR is as deep-frozen as it was in the 1960s and Soviet communism wasn’t on the point of collapsing. It also gets shaky about the tech, with folk using mobile phones too early (though one character has a period-appropriate beeper). Like Nikita, Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) is a druggy drop-out with a useless criminal boyfriend who gets recruited into a spy organisation and trained as a hit woman – here, she’s a Moscow minx who is trained by the KGB and then sent West to be a supermodel-cum-murderess. Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy – Welsh and Irish, doing accents – are her KGB and CIA handlers/lovers – she also has a drop-dead gorgeous Paris model girlfriend (Lera Abova) – and Helen Mirren adds to her Red and Fast/Furious CV as another comedy espionage old lady, as Anna’s toughest boss. Besson has a track record in introducing star actresses – Anne Parillaud, Milla Jovovich, Natalie Portman – but Luss isn’t in their league, or at least doesn’t get the showcase they did.
There is one funny idea, in that the modelling world Anna has to use as a cover is as savage, ruthless and amoral as the international assassination racket which is her real gig – but it isn’t developed beyond a scene where the heroine uses her martial arts skills to get back at a photographer who treats his models badly. There are a couple of well-staged action sequences – Anna’s tryout hit, where she finds she’s been given an unloaded gun and has to wipe out a restaurant full of thugs with whatever comes to hand, and a one-person assault on KGB HQ – but all the ellipses to delay revelations of what’s actually going on (which you’ll spot a mile off) make it hard to get involved or stay interested.