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Thursday, June 27, 2019 12:04 am

Besson's Anna: Old-school action done right

 

It’s a shame that Luc Besson’s Anna arrived in theaters under cover of night.  Lionsgate Pictures released it without previewing it to critics and with little in the way of promotion.  Besson was accused six months ago of sexual impropriety during the shooting of numerous films and, as a result, the studio didn’t want to put this issue back in the spotlight by touting the director’s latest work.

That’s too bad, as Anna is the film action connoisseurs have been waiting for. While John Wick 3 provided all the stylized maiming and killing anyone with a penchant for such things could desire, its last hour fell victim to repetition and fatigue.   And the argument could be made that Besson himself is recycling his own material, as there’s no question Anna shares more than a few plot points with his classic La Femme Nikita.  Still, there’s a vibrancy here that can’t be ignored, a polish to the mayhem that’s distinctly Besson, as well as a star-making turn from Russian model Sasha Luss in the title role.

Possessing an untapped special skill set, Anna is a former prostitute plucked by the KGB to become a stealth assassin after applying to be a member of their armed forces.  She’s a quick study and under the cover of being a jet-setting fashion model, she’s able to travel the world, dispatching Russia’s most wanted.  Her mentor and colleague Alex (Luke Evans) is not immune to her charms and they soon become lovers, a cumbersome and dangerous situation seeing as they are under the watchful eye of Olga (Helen Mirren), their no-nonsense superior.  Things become even more complicated when Anna is approached by CIA bigwig Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy), who presents a compelling argument for her to change sides and become a mole for the United States.

While the above summary is a chronological summation of the plot, its events are presented in a less-linear manner.  Viewers may get whiplash trying to follow the many flashbacks and flash-forwards that are employed, yet it’s all for the best, as this approach keeps the audience on its toes. Doubling back on itself twice, the story proves more surprising than it should and provides a bit of vitality to an oft-told tale.

While many modern filmmakers think they can fashion a well-choreographed action scene, most of them are amateurs compared to Besson.  While he does employ a quick-cutting approach to putting these sequences together, there’s a fluidity to his approach that puts the viewer in the middle of the action, not regulating us to the side as confused spectators.  The centerpiece of the movie is an extended hand-to-hand combat scene that finds Anna dispatching two dozen villains in a posh restaurant using her hands, feet, broken plates, copper bar poles and a surprisingly sturdy fork.  It’s a set-piece worthy of study and examination and is worth the price of admission alone.

As for Luss, she proves herself to be an instant star, commanding the screen from beginning to end, displaying a confidence one usually associates only with seasoned stars.  There’s a fierce quality to her performance that has you in Anna’s corner from the start, but more importantly, she has a natural charisma that draws you to her even when she’s doing nothing.  She deserves another chance to shine and hopefully she’ll get it as she’s one of the main reasons Anna is the best action film of the year, albeit one that unfortunately may go unseen by fans of the genre.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at koplinski@usd116.org.

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