Luc Besson

Anna

11/07/19

Director Luc Besson has been having a thin time of things lately. His love project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, was a baffling and expensive flop, so it’s little wonder he’s returned to more familiar ground with Anna, which has been awaiting release for some time. This histrionic spy-thriller has the feel of an 80s bonkbuster about it: patently absurd, but nonetheless rather enjoyable as it galumphs gleefully across the career of the titular hero (Sasha Luss), a young woman forced to become a high level assassin.

When we first meet her, she’s down at heel, addicted to drugs and enduring an abusive relationship with her no-good boyfriend, Piotr (Alexander Petrov), who gets her mixed up in some very bad business. But she is rescued (if that’s the right term) by KGB man, Alex (Luke Evans), who offers her an opportunity to ‘better herself.’ From this point, the film cuts to five years later – and from there to three years earlier; and we continue to switch back and forth in time like an out of control roller coaster. While it’s occasionally hard to keep track of exactly where we are, it means that the story often pulls the rug from under the viewer’s feet, throwing out some real surprises. It’s never dull.

Complications arise when CIA man, Lenny (Cillian Murphy), appears on the scene.  Anna carries on doing her missions, whilst longing for the freedom to walk away from something that has become an absolute chore.

Most of the familiar Luc Besson tropes are here: savage punch-ups with Anna taking on entire armies of black-suited hit men, casual executions in glamorous settings and young women slinking around in high end fashions (Anna’s cover identity has her posing as a model). There’s also a lovely turn from Helen Mirren as Anna’s chainsmoking KGB handler, Olga, having great fun in a show-off role.

Everything builds to a cross and double-cross conclusion and, while this isn’t Besson at his very best, it’ll certainly do until his next effort comes along. Just don’t think about that labyrinthine plot too much. You’ll tie your brain in knots.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Lucy

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22/08/14

Once upon a time, Luc Besson was France’s foremost action director. Recently, he’s been more successful as a writer/producer, with guilty pleasures like Taken and Transporter to his credit, but it’s a long time since he directed anything of the calibre of Leon or The Fifth Element. Lucy is his attempt to swagger his way back into the big league and while it lacks the kinetic pleasures of his best efforts, it’s nonetheless an entertaining film with an intriguing premise.

Scarlett Johansson plays the eponymous heroine, a luckless student who finds herself tricked by her loser boyfriend into taking a suitcase stuffed with drugs to the hotel room of ruthless crime lord, Mr Jang (Min Sik-Choi). The assignment doesn’t go at all well and these early scenes of Lucy in the dragon’s den, intercut with images of prowling cheetahs hunting their prey, are confidently put together and the strongest moments in the film. Things get rather more complicated when Lucy finds herself the victim of a illicit operation with a bag full of drugs sewn into her intestine. When the bag ruptures, the contents spill through her system and (for reasons that aren’t convincingly explained) Lucy begins to use more and more of her brain’s capacity. Whereupon amazing things begin to happen…

Conveniently, Morgan Freeman is on hand as Professor Norman, an expert on human evolution, to deliver a lecture about what might happen should a human being’s brain power ever be increased. He is at pains to point out that at present, we only use 10 percent of our brains’ potential capacity. This is (apparently) complete nonsense, but don’t let that bother you too much, since it’s merely a device to enable Luc Besson to experiment with the old special effects. Apparently, taking too much of the mysterious drug can turn a meek young student into a kick-ass fighter, able to murder people without raising so much as an eyebrow and to make heavy objects move just by thinking about it.

I’ll be honest, this isn’t Luc Besson’s best film, not by a long shot, but it galumphs along like nobody’s business and it never drags. Meanwhile, Johansson is rapidly becoming this generation’s Marilyn Monroe – the camera adores her and she glides through the proceedings with such assurance, that the viewer barely has time to notice how silly the plot is. Ultimately, this is a partial return to glory for the Gallic action man, but we all know he can do better than this. Still, until another Leon comes along, this will have to do.

4 stars

Philip Caveney