A movie about a female spy during the Cold War— this feels familiar. While not a new idea, the film “Anna” manages to stay fresh and entertaining throughout with thrilling twists, brutal action and a look into what espionage can do to the mind.
The film’s plot is simple. In 1987, Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) is living with her abusive boyfriend in Moscow when she’s recruited by Alex Tchenkov (Luke Rvans) into the KGB due to her impressive resume. In 1990, Anna is given a mission by her supervisor, Olga (Helen Mirren), to be recruited by a modeling agency.
Through this career, she travels for photo shoots around the world, leaving her able to locate and assassinate targets without suspicion. This balance between modeling to maintain her cover and completing her missions is humorous. Anna has angry outbursts during her sessions that make her seem like a drama queen rather than a master assassin late to their target briefing.
As the film advances, the plot’s timeline becomes convoluted while staying more cohesive than its competition — “Atomic Blonde.” Several flashbacks are used to elaborate one scene’s significance, including Anna’s first assassination and each mission she partakes in. A focus on different characters gives each reused scene a purpose as it alters the audience’s view of who’s in control of a situation.
Despite the constant jumping back and forth through time, every flashback is used effectively by waiting until a question is brought up in 1990 before elaborating on a previous scene, including how the Central Intelligence Agency’s Agent Leonard Millard (Cillian Murphy) becomes involved in Anna’s espionage.
Anna’s journey is interesting, as she evolves from looking for a sense of purpose in life to desiring freedom. While she seems cautious of the KGB’s offer at first, she accepts it to move up in life. As she hones her skills, she begins her mission as a model and finally gets a taste of a wealthier lifestyle. Thankfully, the training is skipped to jump into Anna’s new home where she begins to question her agency after realizing she doesn’t care about any objects.
Her inner desire for freedom becomes an annoyance for the short-tempered Olga who grows furious at Anna for not blindly following orders and instead focusing on finishing Olga’s five-year program and being free on her own. This breaks Anna away from feeling like a traditional spy, giving some room for originality as she wishes to leave everything behind rather than serving for any righteous purpose.
Unlike most action movies, “Anna” remains realistic in fight scenes. When someone is hit hard, they stay down rather than bouncing back up as if they were made of rubber. Anna’s resourcefulness is at full display during these moments as she uses common objects such as plates and forks to strike enemies. Even when outsized and outgunned, she finds clever solutions like disassembling her gun and jamming the parts deep enough to twist them and snap someone’s neck or breaking plates to use them as extra long blades.
With creative action and a solid flow, “Anna” proves that the genre has room to improve, considering director Luc Besson started this trend about 30 years ago with “La Femme Nikita.” The multiple perspectives keep the audience wondering what details in scenes could’ve been missed and guessing who truly has power. While not incredibly stylish, the film’s thrills carry it into being memorable.
Contact Caleb Barbachem at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.