September 28, 2020

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Execution lacking

Cold War caper a rehash of better movies

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/6/2019 (465 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Given that French filmmaker Luc Besson’s last film was the messy, bloated sci-fi bomb Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, one can understand the impulse for the director to go back to basics.

That he does. With Anna, Besson fashions a virtual remake of his 1990 hit La Femme Nikita, wherein a beautiful young woman who has fallen into bad company is recruited by a secret government program to become an assassin.

Besson was definitely onto something with that film (which spun out into two different TV series). Combining glamour, violence, espionage and some perverse plotting, he ushered in the 1990s with a movie that was ostensibly empowering to women... or at least, leggy, willowy creatures such as Anna, who demonstrated that a Beretta could be a viable fashion accessory.

This time out, Besson places his heroine in Russia before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Anna (played by fashion model Sasha Luss) is apparently a simple, gorgeous young woman, orphaned at an early age, whom we find selling Russian nesting dolls in a Moscow market. It is here she is discovered by a talent scout for a modelling agency in Paris. And her career takes off.

eOne</p><p>Fashion model Sasha Luss (left) as Anna and Siberian-born German model Lera Abova as Maud in Anna, filmmaker Luc Besson’s virtual remake of his 1990 hit La Femme Nikita.</p></p>

eOne

Fashion model Sasha Luss (left) as Anna and Siberian-born German model Lera Abova as Maud in Anna, filmmaker Luc Besson’s virtual remake of his 1990 hit La Femme Nikita.

Except... her origin is a little more complicated, involving a fateful meeting with KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) that sets her on a path to professional assassin, which is apparently not as lucrative as modelling but at least the two jobs can be worked concurrently.

Also keeping tabs on Anna’s career is a CIA spymaster, Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy) who is nursing a grudge against a KGB boss responsible for the summary execution of a handful of his agents.

Instead of Jeanne Moreau (who played Nikita’s mentor with a sweetly poignant air of faded glamour), Helen Mirren takes the comparatively thankless role of Olga, apparently a former operative herself, now condemned to a life of bureaucratic murder-enabling in a room without a working heater.

Besson does offer up a contemporary tweak. Where Nikita fell for a charming innocent man in her civilian life, Anna is paired up with a fellow model (Siberian-born German model Lera Abova). Abova is utterly charming, to the extent that it’s almost distressing how little chemistry she has with Luss.

It all moves rigorously, despite a penchant for multiple explanatory flashbacks that render the timeline a tad confusing. While Besson can be a terrific action director (see Nikita, Leon: The Professional and his early film Le Dernier Combat), he is operating at a distinct disadvantage here, and not just because he’s done this movie before. His more serious problem is that Anna is following in the footsteps of another Russia-set thriller about a deadly female assassin, the 2017 Charlize Theron movie Atomic Blonde.

In just about every department — fight choreography, period music, atmosphere and production — Anna registers as a pale also-ran in comparison. Most significantly, Atomic Blonde had a skilled, committed, gritty, kick-ass actress in the lead role.

Notwithstanding Luss’s admirable efforts, Anna does not.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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