Starring Sasha Luss. Rated 14A
Ah, the ’90s. A time when the French gave us shiny, shallow cinéma du look, and films like La Femme Nikita somehow passed as odes to female empowerment—stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, and all.
Watch Luc Besson’s film today and it’s a little depressing to see Anne Parillaud’s feisty, foul-mouthed punk get turned into a spy-assassin who knows how to choose the right shade of lipstick and order from the wine menu.
Much like Nikita, Besson’s new Anna looks Euro-slick, but feels like a creepy showcase for the director’s own fetishes.
Those include, in no particular order: emotionally remote older men hooking up with hot young women, women who need to be broken like horses, women with guns, and long legs and garters (a ’90s throwback).
In this #MeToo moment (when Besson himself is facing accusations), Anna feels straight out of another era.
It doesn’t help that the hardscrabble title character is never as interesting as the wild animal that was Parillaud’s Nikita. Played by bottle-blond model Sasha Luss, Anna is down-and-out and selling matryoshkas in a Moscow street market when she’s recruited by a fashion scout.
Soon she’s strutting the runways of Paris, while secretly putting bullets in Russian enemies and stealing state secrets on USB sticks (even though the movie’s set in the early 1990s, when zip discs were the height of computer-nerd fashion).
Let’s stop here and acknowledge there is nothing wrong with stylish emptiness in an action movie, as Atomic Blonde proved, nor is there a problem with ass-kicking female spies. You just need to have a sense of self-awareness about the over-the-top stuff you’re doing, a character with enough ferocity to offer more than eye candy, and a genuine taste for retro-kitsch.
Not only does Anna not feel like it’s set in the early 1990s (fewer laptops and a vague nod to glasnost might have helped), it refuses to have any fun with the era.
Luss attacks her role with robotic drive. Her voracious liaisons with KGB recruiter Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and CIA agent Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy) lack chemistry, and, as usual, Besson’s sex scenes are soulless wham-bams, often in closets (another fetish, presumably).
Besson does show his chops at action scenes here: one blood-spattered restaurant takedown has Anna turning kitchen utensils into weapons against an army of bulky Russian bodyguards.
But the most interesting moments in the movie involve Anna taking strict direction from Helen Mirren, as KGB supervisor Olga.
Looking more like a character out of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the Brit acting veteran creates one of film’s great dragon ladies—a Soviet-era holdover with oversized brown glasses, Khrushchev-issue suits to match, Margaret Thatcher hair, and a cigarette lighter shaped like a hand grenade.
She is, of course, sexless, old—and in control of her own destiny.