“ANNA” is coming to theaters this weekend starring Sasha Luss in her breakout role. This film is written and directed by Luc Besson, known for such films in the genre as “Lucy” and “La Femme Nikita.” Luke Evans, Helen Mirren, and Cillian Murphy fill out the cast in this story that centers on a young woman that becomes a top government assassin for the KGB. Her skills speak for themselves, but the torment of her past and a hunger for freedom will be a constant as she secretly angles to pave a life for herself that she finally call her own.
I think assassin and espionage plot-lines are built for retelling. A few slight story tweaks here and there, with minor changes to character layers can bring about huge differences in a narrative that from all appearances, fits into the genre formula. Add some appealing international locations, government secrecy, stylish edginess, with a splash of sex appeal, and the world it creates is one that I can be pulled into time and gain. This film certainly doesn’t break the espionage/assassin genre template, but it was still a great time. Primarily because of the added elements woven into the story of this woman being semi-forced into a world of agency spies and violence.
The progression of the story is much like others we have all seen in this genre but there was an organization to it that felt fresh, while still feeling familiar. The twists and turns the story takes showed thought. The layers of the plot-line were interesting, things tied in together nicely, and the result was a complete story-line that didn’t have large gaps or inconsistencies. The non-linear approach to the flow may be a hindrance to some but for me it kept the intrigue high. When the story would jump from one period to another there was admittedly a slight unevenness to the flow of things.
However, each jump in the timeline would fill in valuable bits of information to keep the overall plot moving forward and I appreciated that. Some films in this genre tack on twists and misdirection but many feel convoluted by being developed too late, like “Atomic Blonde” for instance. This film to some may feel a little scattered in its progression. Yet there was never a lack of intention, and for that I thought everything came together with a natural feel that didn’t result in plot holes. The characters developed nicely as well, and it all creates an appealing world for the viewer to immerse themselves in.
The performances were all great for the needs of their roles and more specifically the casting choices were perfect. Sasha Luss carries the film in her first lead role. She created sincere emotional layers, when the story needed vulnerability, she captured it. When the character needed intensity and capability, she brought that as well and she was amazing the action-sequences. You can see she put in the physical work to make the fight-sequences look legit and seeing her glide through the choreography with a relentless ferocity naturally made me root for her character to succeed.
Helen Mirren was excellent as this KGB operator and she sold the heartlessness of the character with a grace that was intimidating, darkly comical, and at times heartfelt. She commanded the screen with each scene and was all you could ask for. Both Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy took on some routine plug-and-play character types, but with their delivery and screen presence they certainly elevated the material. They brought dynamics of their own personality traits to the characters as did Mirren. And together with Luss, it was a great group of performances. They carried along a tightly written script with fun splashes of charm and it was a fun ride.
Luc Besson’s direction was nicely crafted. The fight sequences and car chases are enjoyable to watch with a nice use of editing that created appealing visual angles and not the choppy feeling some current day action movies deliver. The international locations are nicely framed in the backdrop of scenes and with a reliance on some cool practical effects there was a subtly grounded vibe to the over-the-top violence. And while this film may follow many tropes in the genre, it was still a highly entertaining movie that has a balance of story, action, and character development to maintain interest for the viewer. It’s stylish, it’s vibrant, but certainly not a case of style over substance.