The disgraced filmmaker proves, once again, that he understands little about what makes great action. Anna is one of the more numb entries in Besson’s consistently anesthetized filmography.
Written & Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, and Luke Evans
Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content
Released June 21, 2019
“I work for the KGB, baby.”
Anna is the origin story of a Russian spy set during the 1990s. She joins the KGB in an attempt to leave behind her dreadful life, only to find herself literally fighting for her freedom. The protagonist uses her sexuality to carry out missions and to manipulate her superiors. The film pretends to be about her “multifold of layers,” and likens her to the matryoshka dolls it can’t stop referencing.
For many, Luc Besson’s name in front of a title indicates a picture both visually sleek and full of action. For me, it signals a derivative disappointment.
The mediocrity of Besson’s output stems largely from the fact that he writes in a straight-to-home-video format. He makes low-budget action flicks that, for some reason, have multi-million dollar budgets and advertise as blockbusters. That being said, Anna had a relatively modest budget of 30 million USD. Most action spectacles these days run into the hundreds of millions range. Be that as it may, it wasn’t cheap, and I expected a lot more. Look at what Rian Johnson did with $30,000,000 in Looper (2012). It had far superior action, and a far superior story. My point is, it can be done.
Other successful contemporary action pieces with 30 million dollar budgets include Singleton’s Four Brothers (2005) and Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009).
The action in Anna is lazily choreographed and laced with apathy. It appears as though the dress-rehearsals made the final cut. The actual combat feels slow, like it needs to be physically sped up in post. The violence is nearly all computer generated, which baffles me. When movies are billed as actions flicks, the only thing they really need to get right is the action. Often times performances, writing, and storytelling are secondary to the spectacle and stunts. How can you produce an action flick in this day and age and not go the extra mile to use practical effects? Just the use of some squibs during a gunfight adds immeasurably to a scene. We’re seeing better action from today’s comedies than we see in Anna, e.g. Pineapple Express (2008), 22 Jump Street (2014).
It’s rare that I’ll see an R-rated action movie that I feel should have cut back to the PG-13 rating, (usually it’s the other way around) but that’s how I feel about Anna. It’s lackluster action and copious partial nudity may be more titillating to an 11 to 14-year-old demographic. It probably could have obtained the PG-13 pretty easily too. Just cut out most of the f-words, and “edit-undo” the cheap blood effects.
Anna is a film with lots of twists and turns. That might be the best thing it has going for it, except the payoff is absent, and the twists become exhausting and predictable. Not to mention the haphazard manor in which we’re bounced from scene to scene, and the foolish presentation of time and location.
So Anna was actually a spy before she was a model?
So she was actually playing both sides?
Why do we care?
Besson doesn’t even care enough about the storyline with Anna’s girlfriend to round it off. It’s simply presented, and then cast aside.
The end of the film is actually the most boring part, when considering the plot, it should be the most exciting. When Anna strikes a deal with Lenny Miller in the luxury suite, the adventure grows even more stale and plunges into a convoluted downward spiral.
The lead actors did the best they could with what they had, particularly Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren, and newcomer Sasha Luss- all believable as their cartoonish characters in this action caper. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
I’ve been in a predicament for many years that Anna has brought to the forefront of my mind. My first taste of action films came from the James Bond franchise. I grew to love the adventures, and the blatant sexism was not straightforward to me at such an early age. My love for 007 blossomed into an admiration for film in general, which, in adulthood, I fear may just be a reverence for escapism.
The implications of brutal violence and the exploitation of women celebrated by this genre have been ignored. We know this because they keep coming back, at least once a month, and kill it at the box office. It’s been ignored, frankly, because people like it. It’s extreme escapism that people won’t admit is pornography because it stars mainstream actors and is distributed by mainstream mass media conglomerates.
Nine women came forward, by virtue of the #MeToo movement, accusing Besson of inappropriate behavior over the past year, and alleged that their complicity with it was out of fear of damaging their careers.
Many site the way Besson depicts strong female leads, namely Nikita of La Femme Nikita (1990), Mathilda of Léon: The Professional (1994), Leeloo of The Fifth Element (1998), and Lucy of Lucy (2014), as a reason to prove that he’s not a predator. He’s jumpstarted the careers of several prominent actresses. Sure, Anna is a female protagonist, and she manipulates the conniving men in her life, and she’s tough, and she kills men, but at the end of the day, who is sexually exploited the most in the film? And who is target audience for this film?
Yes, filmgoers seek exploitation to a certain extent. That’s why it’s escapism. Actors and actresses use their bodies, and writers craft sexually-charged stories to create a fantasy for their viewers, regardless of their gender. Revenge films provide a release for angry justice-seekers, and romantic comedies provide comfort for daydreamers.
But it’s all about consent.
To know that these filmmakers are living out their own fantasies by taking advantage of their power, seriously taints the whole art form. If people involved in the creative process aren’t happy, then it’s a problem. I can’t help but wonder the true motivation behind certain scenes in Anna. Take the brief affair between Anna and Miller, for example. Who is that scene for? Is it for us? Or is it for Besson, behind the camera, on set.
Or is it for Luss, who’s collecting a paycheck? She’s shocked by the allegations, and thinks highly of Besson. She seems genuinely grateful for the opportunity to play the lead.
It’s hard to see in from the outside. I know that there are a lot of creative, good people making good work, but it’s disconcerting to find out that something we enjoy, and have fun with, can be causing pain for others.