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In Theaters: ANNA (2019)

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ANNA
(France - 2019)

Written and directed by Luc Besson. Cast: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy, Luke Evans, Lera Abova, Eric Godon, Andrew Howard, Jean-Baptiste Puech, Sasha Petrov, Adrian Can, Jan Oliver Schroder, Eric Lampaert. (R, 119 mins)

Managing to emerge generally unscathed from sexual assault allegations by a total of nine accusers after Paris prosecutors dropped charges in February 2019 stemming from Dutch writer and comedian Sand Van Roy's claims that he repeatedly raped her, French auteur Luc Besson is back with the throwback espionage thriller ANNA. The allegations against Besson broke just after ANNA finished production, and while watching it, it's hard not to think of the disconnect between the accusations and his recurrent theme of strong, ass-kicking women going back to 1990's highly influential LA FEMME NIKITA. ANNA is largely another retread of the same story, one that seems especially played out considering recent films like ATOMIC BLONDE and RED SPARROW, both inspired to some degree by LA FEMME NIKITA and mining very similar territory in the waning days of the Cold War. The star is Russian supermodel Sasha Luss, who had a small, motion-capture supporting role in Besson's megabudget 2017 sci-fi epic VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS. Luss' Anna is cut from the same cloth as Besson's first wife Anne Parillaud's title character in LA FEMME NIKITA and the kind of cult favorite badasses that his third wife Milla Jovovich played in the RESIDENT EVIL series and other actioners after achieving stardom in his 1997 film THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Luss has a similar background and career path as Jovovich and even resembles her at times, which only adds to the feeling of familiarity and wheel-spinning with ANNA.






Opening with a prologue where nine CIA operatives are killed in Moscow in 1985 and their decapitated heads sent back home to their boss Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy), ANNA repeatedly jumps back and forth to various points from 1987 to 1990. In 1990, Anna Poliatova (Luss) is selling Russian dolls at a Moscow marketplace when she's spotted by a French modeling agent (Jean-Baptiste Puech) and whisked away to Paris. Her star soon rises and she gets involved with wealthy Russian Oleg (Andrew Howard), who deals arms to Syria and Libya. Just as they're about to consummate their relationship, she pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head. Cut back to 1987, when an orphaned, junkie Anna was recruited by KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and put under the stern tutelage of ruthless, unsympathetic, chain-smoking spymaster Olga (Helen Mirren, looking like Fran Lebowitz's stunt double). Under the guise of an up-and-coming supermodel, Anna is given assignments of escalating importance, rubbing out whoever Olga, Tchenkov, and KGB chief Vassiliev (Eric Godon) say, until the assassination of Oleg puts her on Miller's radar.


The time jumps and the twists and turns grow increasingly absurd and it gets more difficult to keep track of what is taking place when, though Besson does put it to clever use as all the pieces--eventually, finally--start falling into place. At this point, it's hard to take any thriller seriously when it uses chess as a metaphor (cue Anna gravely intoning "Checkmate!" as she blows someone's brains out), and Besson almost seems to be glibly winking at the audience, whether it's a long modeling-and-murder montage set to INXS'"Need You Tonight" or constant anachronisms that have to be intentional, like laptops and wi-fi in Anna's shithole Moscow apartment in 1987, and flash drives and cell phones in 1990. But then he strangely tosses in an era-appropriate pager for Miller near the end of the film, which seems peculiarly antiquated considering all the advanced technology everyone's been shown using to that point. Murphy and Evans are fine as flip sides of the same coin, both in their careers and in their simultaneous hot-and-heavy relationships with Anna, while Mirren is under no illusion that this is John Le Carre material and enjoyably hams it up for an easy paycheck. The statuesque Luss handles herself well in the action scenes, particularly where she takes on an entire restaurant full of goons in pursuit of a target, but she's a terrible actress otherwise, never once convincing you that she's capable of manipulating the KGB and the CIA. In the end, ANNA is nothing you haven't seen before and Besson is more or less ripping himself off. It's utterly insignificant but it's never boring and goes down like harmless junk food from Besson's EuropaCorp action assembly line, the kind of movie you'll stop on and end up watching on a lazy weekend afternoon a year from now when it starts running on cable in perpetuity for the rest of your life.

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