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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Film Review: Anna

Anna is a thriller about a man who can access others’ memories, and is assigned what at first seems a simple case but which of course turns out to be much more complex and even dangerous.

The film has an interesting opening scene. It at first feels like a routine break-in scene, with the woman startled by a noise in her home, and then relaxing when she thinks she’s safe, while we see the intruder behind her. But suddenly there is an odd detail. She walks right by a man without seeing him, and then is attacked by another man, while the first watches. She locks herself in the bathroom where the tub is overflowing. That first man is in there watching, but then is suddenly downstairs as the water runs down toward him. The focus has switched from the woman to this man, which is a nice surprise. He rushes upstairs to pull another woman out of the tub, and then he and the first woman suddenly come to in a laboratory, where Sebastian (Brian Cox) informs us, “John’s own memories are intruding.”

We learn, through a television news scene, about Mindscape, “The world’s top memory detective agency.” The news story is about a senator who is the target of an investigation involving embezzlement and blackmail, but the reporter then goes into detail of the history of the use of psychic ability in the solving of crimes and so forth. As is often the case with news footage scenes in films, it’s not quite believable. The newscaster would give just a brief account of the embezzlement case regarding the senator, but wouldn’t be likely to give a history lesson. This is just exposition for the film audience, and that’s exactly what it feels like. The exposition is handled in a rather clunky manner in this film.

We learn that John Washington (Mark Strong), the man from the opening scene, has returned to work several months after suffering from a mild stroke and is in need of money. We also learn that it’s been two years since his wife’s death, and that he hasn’t been dating in this time. Sebastian assigns him the case of Anna, a teenager on a hunger strike. His job is simply to get her to start eating. John quips, “Just tell her parents to hide the fashion magazines.”

But once we get past the exposition, the film becomes quite compelling. Anna’s home is a mansion, with a gate and security cameras. The shot of the gate closing behind John immediately gives us the sense of his own imprisonment, that he is now trapped in whatever lies ahead. We’re introduced to Anna’s mother, Michelle (Saskia Reeves), and stepfather, Robert (Richard Dillane), who tell John (and us) that Anna was always unusual. Michelle calls her “gifted,” while Robert calls her “haunted.” We learn that Anna wishes to go back to school, but is being kept at home because she has cut herself. She is also under constant surveillance within the house, that two people – Judith and Ralph – monitor the cameras from a special room. All of this is an intriguing set-up.

And the film creates some interesting characters, particularly John and Anna. When we meet Anna (Taissa Farmiga), she displays some psychic ability herself, guessing what John is going to say just as he says it. What is odder is that she finds the sound of a metronome soothing. John asks her some questions, leading her to say my favorite line of the film: “I’m not a sociopath, just smart enough to think like one.”

John gets down to business, telling her a bit about how the memory viewing works, including an explanation for why that woman walked right by him in the opening scene. Anna’s memories immediately show her stepfather in a poor light, which begs the question, Why did he hire a memory detective? John is able to get her to eat a sandwich in their first session. And though he had told Sebastian he wasn’t ready to date, he immediately goes on a date with Judith. But if things seem a bit easy for John, it soon becomes clear that there is much more going on with this girl, and that there is something odd about her memories. Was she abused? Did she harm others? And though he’s a memory investigator, he very quickly becomes a real investigator, talking to people who claim Anna ruined their lives.

I got really caught up and involved in this film, but was disappointed with the ending. I can’t detail the problems without giving things away. So let me just say there are some problems with the logic. Basically, everything one character does is with a certain goal in mind. But at the end this character does something which completely negates all that had been done before. Plus, there are some believability issues with the ending, as John becomes something of a moron, and as evidence is completely overlooked by the authorities. And ultimately the film doesn’t have as much to say about memories as I would have hoped. But the characters and set-up are really interesting, and the performances are quite good.

Anna was directed by Jorge Dorado, and was released on DVD on August 5, 2014.

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