In public, Anna was glamorous professional fashion model; but she was also an assassin for the KGB on the side. Her recruiter was KGB agent Alex, who became her lover. After her five-year service, she wanted out as per the deal upon recruitment, but KGB head Vassiliev did not agree to this arrangement. Later in a mission gone wrong, Anna was captured by the CIA, and offered to assassinate Vassiliev in exchange for retirement in Hawaii. Her CIA handler was Leonard Miller, who also became her lover.
Female assassin movies are a very popular subgenre of action films. Arguably created by French director Luc Besson with his seminal film "La Femme Nikita" (1990) with Anne Parillaud. From there, we had "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996) with Geena Davis, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (2003) with Uma Thurman, "Salt" (2010) with Angelina Jolie, "Colombiana" (2011) with Zoe Saldana, "Hanna" (2011) with Soairse Ronan, "Atomic Blonde" (2017) with Charlize Theron, "Red Sparrow" (2018) with Jennifer Lawrence, "Maria" (2019) with Cristine Reyes, and now this new one, "Anna," again with originator Besson.
Anna is played by Russian model-turned-actress Sasha Luss. Her lean physique may seem weak at first glance, which worked well during her vulnerable scenes. However, when she goes into action mode, all hell can still break loose as she single-handedly took on a multitude of men and still come out the victor -- a lot of suspension of disbelief required, of course.
Despite her fragile beauty, her limited acting skills still needs further honing at this point, if she hopes to reach the career levels of the actresses before her. Ironic to discover later that she was a real Russian because her Russian accent sounded so contrived.
Her supporting actors, Luke Evans (as KGB Alex) and Cilian Murphy (as CIA Leonard), both played well as the agents on both sides of the fence who both fell for Anna's irresistible wiles and wits. Helen Mirren stole all of her scenes with an over-the-top portrayal of Anna's KGB handler Olga, in full Edna Mode (of "The Incredibles") look with the her bob hairstyle and big glasses, but with ulterior motives of her own.
This was not exactly the John Wick-style action flick with one major action sequence after the other. There were actually only two major fight scenes in this -- one set in a restaurant and the other one in the basement of the KGB building. These were prolonged extended scenes of Anna fighting an unending stream of goons coming at her from all directions. The hardcore fight choreography was fast, slick and exciting, expertly captured with frenetic yet clean camera work.
The best scene in the whole film for me was the final deadlocked confrontation scene at the Parisian park -- an ultimate in tense Cold War standoffs. All the major characters of the film were involved in this well-executed scene, and it was not at all predictable how things would turn out, so I was kept on edge the whole time. The whole climax and epilogue set-up was so unbelievable, yet it worked so well.
If there was something that felt sort of off, it was Besson's storytelling style of going into multiple flashbacks to explain what really happened in a certain scene that was previously showed already. While an interesting device at times, it can be also be confusing to try to reconstruct and link the events together in order. One "Three Months Earlier" card may be alright, but seeing three of them at various parts of the film was a bit unwieldy.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."