Female empowerment and female objectification have always gone hand in hand in Luc Besson's films. This has always been a strangely effective if problematic view, especially in the light of the current allegations of sexual impropriety levelled against the French filmmaker. His latest film, Anna, is very much in his wheelhouse, keeping with his theme of fetishising vulnerable yet badass girl-women and often playing like a not-so-loose remake of his 1990 breakthrough hit, La Femme Nikita.
Model Sasha Luss, whose only previous acting credit was in Besson's critical and commercial bomb, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, acquits herself well and often compels as the titular character, an ex-prostitute and junkie who gets a lifeline from her dead end existence from KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans). If she agrees to give over the next five years of her life (one year military training, four years operation in the field), then she can have her freedom and live her life as she chooses. Thus ensues a time-hopping, incoherent and ridiculously absurd narrative that finds Anna using her cover as a supermodel to kill a lot of bad people straight of central casting, and still making time for sexual liaisons with Alex, fellow model Maud (Lera Abova), and CIA agent Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy), who has recruited her to be a double agent.
It's all tremendously lazy Eurotrash but, to be fair, there are moments when Besson's way with an action sequence sparks the film to life. A particular highlight amidst the enervating dreck is Anna's first mission, in which her skill and cunning to fend off a gaggle of goons in a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately for Besson, Anna comes on the heels of Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow, two similarly themed films that are, far and away, better products. The former takes Besson's stylishness to the nth degree and the fight sequences are fantastic (no surprise, since helmer David Leitch was a former stuntman and uncredited director on John Wick), whilst the latter leans into the luridness of its material and makes a provocative exploration of female sexuality as a means to its own end.
Anna loses its way before it even starts, but its patchwork plotting and barely there characterisation may be its most undermining elements. Luss is certainly a watchable presence and there are moments when she not only rises above the material but slightly elevates it. Yet she's not entirely successful in making one genuinely invest in Anna's outcome. The viewer roots for Anna because they have to, not because they actually want to in the same way that they cared for Anne Parillaud's Nikita or Natalie Portman's Mathilda in The Professional. Or, even to a certain degree, Helen Mirren's Olga in Anna, and that's simply because Mirren is Mirren and she somehow renders Olga imperious, amusing, and poignant.
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Starring: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova