Luc Besson, the godfather of the contemporary French action/adventure film, has made a spy story, set at the end of the Cold War, called “Anna.” It is now showing locally.
Besson has written and directed, and “Anna” follows his formula pretty well. In fact, it is quite a lot like his “La Femme Nikita.” “Anna” has well-known English-speaking actors in significant parts — here we get Dame Helen Mirren as well as Cillian Murphy and Luke Evans, whose faces you will recognize even if you don’t immediately know their names.
His star is Russian model Sasha Luss, who was in Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Putting her in scenes with Oscar-, Golden Globe- and Emmy-winner Mirren really wasn’t fair. But Luss is quite good in the movie’s action scenes, which is what it is mostly selling.
And so the cinematic year of the tough woman continues. In what other time would we cast a 110-pound blonde to play a Jack Reacher character?
The idea is silly. But then spy films are usually silly, and this one is ridiculous from the get-go. Anna (Luss) is an orphan and a drug addict recruited by a KGB agent (Alex, played by Evans) to be a professional killer masquerading as a Paris model.
Alex’s immediate boss is cynical and demanding Olga (Mirren). She sends Anna on a trial outing, a murder in a busy Moscow restaurant. And she sends her off with an unloaded gun.
This brings us to the best scene in the movie. It is well-and-quickly cut (a Besson specialty). Its few ideas about the attack are developed intelligently. It happens in a colorful location. And it looks spectacular.
There are a couple of other fighting pieces later in the movie, along with a lengthy montage of Anna’s successful murder attempts, all of them face-to-face jobs. But really the scene in the restaurant is the one moviegoers will enjoy and will think about afterwards.
The montage is as much about Anna’s many wigs as it is about her audacious shooting. Then there are consultations between Anna and Olga, between Anna and her lover Alex, and between Anna and her lover CIA section chief Lenny (Murphy). Because eventually the CIA eventually approaches her to do a job for them.
They want her to kill Olga’s boss, a desk jockey named, perhaps inevitably, Vassiliev.
It is tricky to figure how much your friend can tell you about that part of the story. Besson has contrived to make his very simple plot look more sophisticated by cutting it up in pieces and flashing forward and back, often with on-screen titles to tell us where we are and when.
This technique probably doesn’t do much to protect the movie’s suspense. But it does make watching the film more difficult than it probably needed to be. So does having Anna have sex with both her agency handlers.
And then there’s the lesbian question. When coincidentally multilingual Anna is “discovered” (as part of a contrived series of events), her modeling agent takes her to Paris and dumps her off in a gang apartment for scads of the agency’s younger girls.
She accepts the attentions of a brunette (Lera Abova) in order to have a bed to sleep in. But then our anti-heroine strings along her bedmate and fellow mannequin, even taking her on her only vacation from modeling assignments. Nevertheless, Maud, as Abova’s character is called, doesn’t get a formal kiss off when the action winds down.
And the ending is a “Superfly” one, with proverbial hostage taking assuring Anna’s desired end. Certainly “Anna” is not a bad movie. But it has a central identity problem. The story is silly — poor little Slav girl becomes a star in order to win her freedom — and familiar. But the movie rarely goes for laughs.
Even serious drama needs some kidding around. “Anna” only pretends to be serious. But it is so intent on being more than it is that it misses some of the fun or being just a spy story after all.