Anna is the latest film from prolific filmmaker, Luc Besson. A spy action thriller, it recalls his earlier films La Femme Nikita and The Professional, echoing many of his trademark elements as a writer-director. As a writer and producer, Besson’s racked up impressive credits for The Transporter and Taken to name a few, showing his understanding of the thriller genre across the spectrum. While his sci-fi thriller, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson didn’t hit the mark… Besson’s become the go-to man when it comes to female-led actioners. This sentiment is echoed by recent announcements around sequels to both Lucy and Colombiana.
While Besson has been a major influence on the genre, Anna is probably best described as Red Sparrow meets John Wick. The Russian intelligence spy programme and Jennifer Lawrence’s starring role signalled renewed interest in the concept and theme on the back of MI6 spy thriller, Atomic Blonde. It seemed obvious for Mr. La Femme Nikita to return to this playground. Keanu Reeves must have the keys to the matrix after rebooting his career in John Wick, which turned action choreography into an art form. Since Red Sparrow and John Wick both have action “ballet” in common, the conditions were perfect for Anna.
Another interesting development can be witnessed in the birth of new star in model turned actress, Sasha Luss, who plays the title role. Besson is famous for his a number of movies, mostly notably The Fifth Element starring former spouse, Milla Jovovich. An enigmatic star and muse to the director, who helmed The Messenger, it seems as though Besson’s trying to play God by creating another Jovovich. Luss is angelic, the epitome of youth and lithe to the point of supporting a subplot that she’s not of this world. She may not be Leeloo or require a multi-pass, but she’s breathtakingly beautiful and adept at this physically-demanding role. The strange thing is that she’s able to conjure up Milla Jovovich at times and through her many disguises. She doesn’t have the same screen presence… yet, but demonstrates her shape-shifting versatility as an actor.
The actioner is set against the backdrop of the KGB as new recruit Anna Poliatova has to pay her dues after being rescued from the point of no return. Using her cadet skills, street smarts and rising through the ranks, her striking beauty makes her the perfect honey trap to marks. Accepting a mission that takes her into the realm of high fashion as a model, she’s able to use her abilities and all-access pass to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins. The story line isn’t anything new, bowing to tropes of the genre but this globe-trotting spy thriller is built around Sasha Luss whose stunning visage makes every scene easy to watch.
“Don’t worry, I only kill people.”
She’s supported by a stellar ensemble in Luke Evans, Ciallian Murphy and Helen Mirren. Evans plays a brute of a KGB agent in Alex Tchenkov, Murphy is crafty CIA operative Lenny Miller and both are won over by Anna‘s charms. Pushing off these high quality supporting actors makes the film compelling and anchors the more dramatic interludes. Mirren has been taking on these kind of supporting character roles in many films and contributes fiercely once again with the influential KGB stalwart, Olga. Luss goes with the flow, never looking out of her depth opposite these fine actors and making the action seem effortless – testament to the stunt and fight choreography team.
Anna is a film of many layers and tries to mystify audiences with its choppy timeline, jumping back and forward through flashbacks. This technique keeps you guessing and engaged but also creates some distance in its sleight-of-hand editing. Diverting a sense of continuous reality enables the thriller to take artistic license in its comic book style storytelling. As a slick actioner, it’s not concerned with investigating the inner workings of the KGB or CIA but delivering entertainment by way of whirlwind, often bloody, assassin action. The spy romance element steers things into the pulpy fun and danger of a femme fatale hero but remains elusive enough to avoid devolving into a comedic Mr and Mrs Smith operation.
Leveraging its gliding cinematography, throwback soundtrack and gritty action sequences there are many similarities with Atomic Blonde. Sasha Luss is much more Milla Jovovich than Charlize Theron but some spy action thrillers aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. It seems like a cop out to come back to the Red Sparrow meets John Wick description but it really is a good way of telling whether you’ll enjoy it or not. The genre play is familiar but it remains entertaining as a popcorn blockbuster with a beautiful fresh-faced lead, natural elegance and enough twists to remain slick, sharp and fun.
The bottom line: Entertaining