Review: ‘Anna’, Luc Besson Keeps Trying To Recapture That ‘La Femme Nikita’ Magic

I so wanted to like Anna. Really. Luc Besson is among my favorite filmmakers, despite his weaknesses as a storyteller, cultural insensitivity, and fondness for casting supermodels who can’t really act. Wait…maybe those are reasons why I like him?  He’s been doing the same thing for so many years we’re stunned when he does anything different. But Anna is not different. It’s the same. The same as numerous hot chick assassin movies Besson has done in an attempt to recapture what he found with 1990’s iconic La Femme Nikita, and then momentarily rediscovered with 2014’s Lucy.

There is, of course, a visceral reaction to watching a sexy killer mow her way through a bunch of armed goons, always dudes, mind you. But it’s fleeting if there isn’t more the story grapples with. It’s Besson’s idea of female empowerment, I guess, although the way his camera leers on his muse du jour, in this case Russian supermodel Sasha Luss, it sticks much closer to objectification. Luss, who Besson discovered and gave a tiny role in his mega-blockbuster flop Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, plays the titular junkie whose analytical skills, calm under pressure, and outright desperation makes her the perfect KGB recruit. These things always start off with the woman in question being either a junkie or a whore, so they can be rescued and turned to a life of murder-for-hire, which seems like an upgrade from their previous predicament.

To the film’s benefit, the tables have been turned a little in that Anna is stuck in a war between governmental spy agencies in 1990. Recruited by an intense KGB spook named Alex (Luke Evans), Anna is given a choice to either serve her country or go on living in squalor. She proceeds to slit her own wrists rather than make a choice, followed by a hilariously long-winded conversation while she bleeds out. He wins her over, eventually, and before long she’s in Paris posing as a supermodel (stretch those wings!!) while working for a Russian assassin ring led by the cutthroat Olga, played by the great Helen Mirren styled to look like Linda Hunt with much the same ornery attitude.  Of course, this being a Besson film he has a certain dismissive idea of the CIA, led by a bored-looking Cillian Murphy (bored until he’s in a tight space with Luss, that is, then he perks up), who show up and make Anna’s life very complicated.

So Anna is another in a long line of statuesque beauties with pouty lips and deadly aim. And Anna does kill a lot of men, usually set to whatever track Besson thinks is appropriate for the era, although a murder set to INXS’s “Need You Tonight” is a definite odd choice. However, if you want a dose of C&C Music Factory, you’ll get it here. There’s nothing here that keeps you gripped with suspense, no subtext, nothing. Frequent leaps in chronology to explain major plot twists may seem like a cool idea at first, until you realize it means nothing truly matters because of it. If it were used sparingly, that would be one thing, but quickly it becomes a narrative crutch that Besson leans on for the entire movie.

The action is standard and not up to par in today’s John Wick/Atomic Blonde era. Besson hasn’t improved on his techniques in the least, and I don’t hold Luss responsible for the bland fight choreography. She’s actually got a fair amount of charisma, athleticism, and isn’t untalented as an actress. But this is a Besson script, and he has never been able to create another female superstar since Milla Jojovich back in the ’90s. His lead females are all empty vessels, and sadly he only sees women as either seductresses or objects of desire. Mirren’s character explicitly lays this out at one point, calling Anna “useful as a honeytrap” and nothing. It’s like Besson is speaking through her. I would say Luss is deserving of better, and maybe in a future movie she’ll get it. But if Besson comes calling proposing Anna 2: The Revenge, she should politely refuse.

Rating: 2 out of 5