Anna

Anna is a moderately entertaining mystery movie that basically falls apart as it’s trying to wrap things up. That’s a problem with a lot of mysteries. It’s tough to get everything to fall into place perfectly, and sometimes the twists and turns become too much to keep straight. In this case, a reveal later on leads to more questions than answers, and also defies all forms of logic. With that said, for about 85% of Anna‘s running time, it’s entertaining enough to be worth seeing.

Set in either an alternate universe or the near-future, Anna is a movie whose protagonist is someone who can enter people’s memories, which accomplishes two things: (1) he can see things exactly as they happened, and (2) it allows the person whose memories are being viewed to experience them again and perhaps gain some perspective on whatever problems they’re facing in the present. This isn’t something that holds up in court particularly well, we’re told. If you can’t enter memories, it’s hard to believe in it. It’s also possible for the patient to fake memories, although the person entering them can usually tell.

Our lead is John (Mark Strong), our memory detective, who has effectively retired at the film’s opening. He lost his wife some time ago, and basically quit his job because of that. You have to be mentally strong to do this job, and he isn’t. But, he’s running out of money, so he heads back to Mindscape, the company that does the memory thing, looking for work. His boss, Sebastian (Brian Cox), gives him an easy case: there’s a girl, named Anna (Taissa Farmiga), who is on a hunger strike. All John has to do is get her to eat.

It’s funny when we realize that this goal is accomplished relatively early on, and that the film doesn’t just end there. John gets her to eat a sandwich after their second meeting, I think it was. But Anna tells him that there’s a conspiracy in the family, that everyone else is crazy but her, that she didn’t do any of the (many) things she’s been accused of, etc. What initially looked like a simple task becomes a complicated mystery.

So, we spend a lot of time learning about Anna’s past — or do we? What is real? Exactly how smart is Anna? Is she the victim of the perpetrator? You get to ask these questions and for the vast majority of the film, you don’t really know. You have some ideas, perhaps, and probably come up with any number of possible scenarios, and the truth of the matter is that any one of them can probably happen. It wouldn’t surprise me if the last 15 minutes were filmed multiple ways, and that when Anna hits home video, we’ll get to see two or three “alternate endings.”

Anna isn’t particularly involving, at least emotionally, but it does do a pretty good job of keeping us guessing. There are some clues that you might ignore if, say, you’re a fan of a particular character, but for the most part it provides ample opportunity to make you think that someone must be guilty, before changing that around completely in the next scene. It works well as a mystery-thriller.

Where it falters is in the ending, which is illogical and raises more questions than it answers. You can tell what the filmmakers were going for with it, but given character motivations we learned about earlier, it doesn’t work. Ending a couple of scenes earlier might have even fixed this. Sometimes, trying to explain every little thing leads to inconsistency and more questions, and that’s the case here. Leaving the ambiguity would have led to a tighter conclusion that only answered what we needed to know.

I’m struggling to determine if Taissa Farmiga is that good an actor, or if everyone else — in particularly Mark Strong — in this film is just terrible. Mark Strong is as bland as they come in his against-type turn as a memory detective, and the lines he has to deliver sound straight out of a 1993 point-and-click detective video game — delivered with even less enthusiasm. Brian Cox is in the film simply to provide another potential suspect. Noah Taylor is also in the film for a scene, if you care about him.

It’s Taissa Farmiga who shines, and I think she’s one of the primary reasons the film works at all. She has to work in intelligence, thoughtfulness, and possibly psychopathy. At the very least, she has to play a character who has, feigns, or tries to hide all of these traits. And she’s incredibly good. It helps that her dialogue isn’t terribly written or delivered in a wooden manner, but the acting outside of that is so much better than anyone else in this movie — it’s like she was the only one to take it seriously (which might be the case; the other actors don’t really “need” it, while she does).

Anna is a decent mystery movie for the majority of its running time, even if its ending tries too hard to explain everything and in doing so winds up being more confusing than helpful. It has a few good twists, an interesting premise, and a strong performance by Taissa Farmiga, even if the rest of the cast is pretty poor and it’s ultimately not as clever as it might think. I’m not sure if it’s worth watching, but if you decide to give it a spin, you might have a bit of fun.

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