A stunningly beautiful girl, Anna (Sasha Luss), plucked from obscurity and suddenly becomes the talk of the modelling world. But behind the spotlight and glamour, there’s more to this girl than meets the eye. Anna’s model lifestyle is a cover for her real profession, a cold-blooded KGB assassin. Under instructions from her cold-hearted handler, Olga (Helen Mirren) and supported by her mentor Alex (Luke Evans), Anna becomes one of their best killers. But is this the life Anna wants or does she crave her own freedom from the bloodshed? And can she escape when one CIA agent (Cillian Murphy) is breathing down her neck?
Luc Besson is a film maker who is behind some of my favourite films from my teenage and university years. I first encountered his style with sci-fi classic The Fifth Element and the more I delved into his catalogue of films, I adored films like Leon: The Professional and Nikita.
But beyond my university years, I lost value in Besson. Despite his producer name attached to some solid European actioners – Taken, The Transporter, Unleashed (Danny The Dog), for every solid gem there was a wave of terrible sequels and frequent misfires.
Since Angel-A and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, I rarely found much enjoyment in his films. His animated Arthur films were just frankly terrible, The Lady was a rather flat political biopic, The Family was a poor De Niro crime caper, Lucy squandered its potential with a third act science lesson and Valerian was a pretty yet painfully dull sci-fi passion project.
So discovering he was returning to some of his earlier roots, mostly his fondness for assassins, with Anna; I had no idea what to expect. Was more the same misfiring from his previous films or something more positive?
Thankfully, Anna is refreshingly a step back in the right direction for Luc Besson, although the return to his roots is tainted as I’ll explain later on. First, let’s focus on some of the positives.
Besson gives us another strong lead female character in the form of Anna. She is a woman who has a torrid upbringing, tragically orphaned and held down in a very problematic relationship. But, she desires freedom from her troubled life and that is the film’s constant propeller. Even if said quest for freedom makes her into one frightening killer. You can argue it’s a mesh of previous Besson characters – the tragedy of Mathilda from Leon, the aloof naivety of Leelo from Fifth Element and the trained ruthlessness of Nikita.
Besson has good history with these traits and it transfers well into this character. It’s not original but when you’ve shown these are characters you’ve successful explored before, it’s a safe direction for the French film-maker.
There’s a small added layer that Anna herself is played by Sasha Luss; a model turned actress in her first leading role. Besson has usually had an ongoing trait of casting near unknowns in his female roles, Luss is another addition to that tradition. For her first lead and the nature of the role itself, Luss holds her own as our front and central focal point of the film. As film debuts go, it’s a decent start to an acting career.
Anna’s lead actress is given helping yet reliable support turns from Evans’ KGB mentor and Cillian Murphy’s chasing CIA agent. However, it’s Helen Mirren who gets her fair share of memorable scene-chewing as Anna’s KGB handler – one of the film’s best characters.
Action scenes, the brief few of them, are shot well even if they’ve taken a page of the John Wick play book. Previous Besson produced efforts, like Transporter, Taken, etc suffered from quick edits and bad framing. Keeping in trend in popular actioners, Anna’s action is solid – even if Besson’s is catching up to the pack.
So why did I refer to Anna as being tainted? Well, whatever goodwill Besson has with a promising solid dark spy tale goes virtually out of the window with his fascination of using time jump mechanics.
This is a fascination that could be better described as Besson acting like an excited kid with a giant big red button labelled “PUSH ME TO GO THROUGH SPACE AND TIME”.
On second thought, that’s a bit of a overreaction. Let’s be a bit more grounded on this.
The time jump mechanic is used several times throughout the movie and it usually comes after a pivotal character moment. We jump back in time to see the events again although now we get presented with additional situations unfolding at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with this when it’s used in moderation.
But this happens an absurd amount of times. The screening I attended, there was a fair audible groans and laughter from the audience every time this happened in the last third of the film. It becomes increasingly ridiculous. Part of me wonders if the film would have benefited from being presented in a chronological order.
Ridiculous also sums up the later half’s story arc, unsurprisingly the double life does indeed take its toll on our female protagonist and that’s a direction I expected the film to take. What I didn’t expect was the increasing escalations that just keep popping up as the film goes from one direction to the other. Triple turns, double turns, occasional jokes, unintentionally hilarious tense meetings in public parks, these are just a measure of how flippy floppy Anna becomes towards its conclusion.
And seriously, the last big twist against a character who has frequently proved throughout the film that nothing gets the better of them is revealed in such a god awful stupid joke that is seems it had inspiration from The Simpsons. That’s how ridiculous it becomes and by the end of it, the film doesn’t seem to care about its bizarre tonal shifts.
But does Besson’s love of time hopping and the utterly silliness of the third act completely derail Anna? Surprisingly, no. Regardless of its faults, I found Anna to be a very watchable throwaway film. It’s the kind of film you’ll likely watch on a streaming service along with a takeaway on a Saturday night. It does enough to engage you, it does more than enough for you to find some entertainment in its faults.
Ultimately, Anna is a solid B-movie film that is held back from jumping above the norm by its narrative mechanic time jump overload and its “f**k it” attitude when things really start to get bloody stupid. At least we can be grateful that Besson has found some comfort back in his assassin thrills and for that, I don’t regret the two hours I spent here.
Anna is at cinemas now