In Luc Besson’s “Anna,” a struggling, beautiful young woman is coerced into becoming a world-class assassin, and finds herself pining for her freedom while dispatching her targets. Sound familiar? It’s roughly the same outline as the director’s 1991 hit “La Femme Nikita,” which proved the French could outdo Hollywood at making action movies. “Anna” isn’t as stylish or gripping as “Nikita,” but it does have its own demented charm, particularly in how it toys with structure, nesting competing narrative timelines within each other.
We first meet our heroine Anna (Sasha Luss) as she’s approached at a Moscow market by a scout for a Paris modeling agency. She promptly enters the world of high fashion, and it’s not until she kills an arms dealer who’s courting her that the film doubles back, revealing Anna’s prior recruitment by the KGB. That’s not the whole story either: Over and over, the film proceeds down one narrative path, then jumps back as each twist reveals a new, hidden thread. Besson keeps the story and action clear while deftly slipping in minor details that prove crucial later on.
“Anna” is entertainingly put together, but it might be hard to be entertained by it. Last year, the director was accused by a number of women of sexual assault, which he has denied. It’s hard not to be reminded of such matters when watching a film that often turns on seduction and shifting power dynamics in male-female relations. “Anna” can’t live in a vacuum.
Rated R for scantily-clad stabbing, slicing, shooting and slashing, and an alarming number of exploding heads. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
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