Review Date: 6/23/19
Written And Directed By: Luc Besson
Music: Eric Serra
Cast: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy
"Don't put your faith in men. Put your faith in yourself."
Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) is just a poor Russian girl, living on the streets as a junkie and floating from one bad relationship to the next. A Russian KGB agent named Alex (Luke Evans) sees potential in her and convinces Olga (Helen Mirren) to recruit her as a field agent, with the promise of only having to serve for five years. That obviously turns out to be a lie since most agents don't live that long, and the constant killing begins to take its toll on Anna's mental and emotional well-being. To complicate things further, a cunning CIA operative (Cillian Murphy) has taken great interest in her, and Anna must use all of her wits and resources to stay alive as both agencies close in on her.
Unfortunately, the film is a convoluted and incoherent mess with a strong and unpleasant misogynistic undercurrent that's typical of Luc Besson's work. Thematically, it's essentially a remake of Besson's own "La Femme Nikita" (1990), and feels like a cross between "Atomic Blonde" (2017) and "Red Sparrow" (2018). Fashion model Sasha Luss delivers a surprisingly convincing and captivating performance, and somehow manages to rise above the filth that anchors the film. As I initially feared, the film's best moments are all given away in the trailer, which offers little reason to bother with sitting through the entire movie. That said, Sasha is still a lot of fun to watch in action. She's fierce, focused, ruthlessly violent, and effortlessly graceful. Everyone else in the film is just mean and nasty, with the sole exception of Anna's cute lesbian girlfriend.
It's a good looking production for the most part, and the various locations are beautiful and evocative. The stunt work is good, the chases are nicely staged, and the action is refreshingly grounded. Unfortunately, even though the action scenes are well-crafted, they suffer from time compression, dropped frames, awkward timing, and non-complementary music. As we've come to expect from Luc Besson, the film fetishizes sex and violence, but it's mired in unpleasantness and Besson's mean-spirited treatment feels stale and outdated. Additionally, the film's needlessly fractured timeline is annoying and impossible to follow. It tries to be clever by using Russian nesting dolls as a metaphor for non-linear storytelling, but that only alienates the viewer, betrays the audiences's trust, and highlights the weakness of the paper-thin plot. The constant bait-and-switch mental gymnastics left me frustrated and emotionally detached, and it didn't take long before I tuned out and just wanted the movie to end. Much like "Lucy" (2014), the film is overly pretentious and self-indulgent, and would be much more enjoyable as a straight-forward action film.