In a summer packed with sequels comes a movie that isn’t a sequel but feels like one. “Anna,” the new action-adventure from writer-director Luc Besson, is a new story but breathes the same air as fist-in-the-air Luc Besson thrillers like “La Femme Nikita” and “Lucy.”
Here’s the barest of outlines. Anna (Sasha Luss) is a former prostitute saved from a life on the streets when she’s recruited by the KGB. Her handler Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) admires her calm under pressure, smarts and the way she uses her anger. She’s also, he says, “a blank key that can open many doors.“ In other words she’s a beautiful unknown who is not in the radar of their enemies.
She signs on, becomes a killing machine and, in one elaborate mission, is scouted as a high fashion model by a prestigious Paris agency. Cue the modelling, mayhem and murder. When a job goes wrong she finds herself caught between the KGB and the CIA. Working one against the other she attempts to get the one thing she’s never had, freedom. “Is this my life,” she wonders aloud, “waiting to take a bullet between my eyes?”
“Anna” plays with time. The presentation of the story can’t rightly be called a broken timeline as much as a shattered, twisted and torn timeline. Besson loves his “Five Years Earlier,” “Six Months Later” and “Three Years Earlier” title cards to the point of distraction. H. G. Wells didn’t tinker with time as much as Besson does here. “Memento” seems linear by comparison. What is meant to be a playful storytelling device bogs the movie down to point of narrative puzzlement.
Besson, who was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018 (BTW he “categorically denies these fantasist accusations.”), has clearly tried (and failed) to address the #metoo movement in “Anna.” Anna gets violent with a fashion photographer who bears a striking resemblance to Terry Richardson and one of her KGB handlers tells her, “Never put your faith in men Anna. Put faith in yourself.” It would even likely the pass the Bechdel Test—does a film feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man?—but despite cursory acknowledgements it still manages to wring the misogyny out of what should have been a female empowerment tale.
Besson has a habit of making films about female assassins—see “La Femme Nikita,” “The Professional and “Lucy”—but “Anna” suggests he has nothing left to say on the topic.