I tried to go into Luc Besson’s latest action movie without earlier hesitations either about the well-reported allegations against him or the fact that Lionsgate chose not to screen this in advance for critics, assuming they wouldn’t be able to watch the movie without those other things in mind. (The movie’s North American release had already been delayed since 2017 for that very reason.)
The thing is that I’m a true Luc Besson fan and have been for decades, knowing full well how much he has influenced the action movie genre during that time. He rarely disappoints when it comes to action even nurturing a new breed of French action directors like Louis Letterier and Pierre Morel (Taken).
Anna returns Besson to the familiar territory of La Femme Nikita, being a KGB spy thriller starring former Russian supermodel Sasha Luss as a Russian woman who we meet in 1990 as she’s being inducted into a French modeling agency. If you’ve only seen the trailers, you might assume some sort of nefarious motivations by her recruiter, but that job is just a front for Anna’s true role as a KGB assassin.
Anna’s KGB handlers are Luke Evans’ Alex Tchenkov and Helen Mirren’s Olga, the latter sporting an awkwardly bad Russian accent. On the American side of this late Cold War is CIA agent Lenny Miller, played by Cillian Murphy, who at the beginning of the movie, received nine packages each with a human head inside. We’ll learn later in the movie what that was about, but the conflict between the two countries has continued well past the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Anna has been trained to use sex as her weapon to lure men in, and as a true double agent, she’s having affairs with both Alex and Lenny as well as having a steady girlfriend Maud (Lera Abova), who knows nothing about Anna’s double life.
As much as Anna tries to be a female empowerment story, similar to many of Besson’s earlier films, he also makes a few questionable decisions that more than a few women might credit to the fact that the movie was written and directed by a man. That would be a fair assessment even if some of these decisions are there solely to cater to the story.
Sasha Luss is a fairly incredible new actor who goes through a range of emotions as she is basically playing everyone that is trying to use her for their own means. Both Murphy and Mirren bring enough to the table in their scenes with Luss to keep their interactions entertaining — Mirren’s Olga is especially fun with her hard-as-nails approach to handling her personal assassin.
More importantly, Anna offers a couple seriously great action scenes of Luss kicking the ass of a lot of men, the type of violent action that’s become so popular but that Besson can probably take much credit for. Anna’s use of a fork on one muscled thug is hard to forget, and there’s also a hilarious “murder montage” set to the tune of INXS that really shows off her skills as an agent and assassin.
The movie repeatedly cuts back in time, first three years, then six months and then forward and back again, much of it in order to explain some of the sudden twists. After the third or fourth time jump like this, it becomes a little hard to take seriously as the plot device does get tiring. The first jump back in time shows how Anna was being abused by her junkie boyfriend and how Alex gives her an option to join his military training if she wants out of that lifestyle; that section probably could have been ten minutes shorter and gotten the point across.
There isn’t too much more to say about Anna. It has its entertaining moments, but it also has long stretches in between that serve very little purpose to the overall story. It’s certainly not Besson’s worst movie but it’s nowhere near his best either.
Anna might not be quite as good an action movie as Atomic Blonde or the latest John Wick, but at least it works better than Jennifer Lawrence’s Red Sparrow. As empowering as the story might be at times, it’s confounding how the movie drags on for long periods of time, taking away from the more entertaining moments.