The trajectory of high octane, almost video game mentality genre has its great moments. A couple years ago “Hardcore Henry” showed at Toronto Film Festival, the extreme levels from which a lot of ideas could flow. Ryan Reynolds’ upcoming “Free Guy” will appproach it from another perspective but one with more money and mainstream humor. “Guns Akimbo” is much more gritty but takes its point of view from similar approach. Daniel Radcliffe plays a mousy if not slightly passive game/code designer who trolls website with the implication that he will eventually be called on his miscredence. The overarching villain aspect of the piece is a form of Death Death Kill where opponents are set against each other in the real world trying to kill each other. The big winner is Nix, played by Samara Weaving of “Ready Or Not”, going full bore into a nightmare version of Tank Girl mixed with Harley Quinn. One can see glimpses of her uncle, Hugo Weaving in some of her viscosity. After “Ready Or Not”, this almost seems too archaic for her, though definitely powerful and comedic.
Ultimately the progression is about subverting expectations. Although some of plot twists start to play melodramatic so they can be ripped to shreds, the losses and stakes never really add up to much. The pace is fairly fast and furious. Some of the set pieces, especially a road race per se where Radcliffe can barely drive the car because guns are nailed to his hands, uniquely gratifying. These nailed hands is the main visual structure of the piece and Radcliffe embraces them as possible. When it was announced, the film was expected to played to its graphic novel beats. Radcliffe as always picks material not necessarily for the character itself but its concept within the world. Within the trinity trio of Harry Potter, he has been the one who has taken the most risks though Emma Watson has gone for bigger budget fare with varying success. The thematics here of identity and who we want to be and who we think we are definitely integrate into the story. The resolution is typical graphic novel style overload but undeniably entertaining with the set up ripe for engagement and continuation. “Guns Akimbo” is good fun with its tongue-in-cheek, a good sense of itself and a flagrant style.
By Tim Wassberg
After “Valerian”, director Luc Besson has been balancing the different essences of life with his company in financial trouble for a short time. Personally he was being attacked because of supposed conduct. And a film that was supposed to be his big return to large film making simply tanked. In personification, “Valerian” wasn’t bad. It was perfectly on par with “The Fifth Element” but made in a different time. “Lucy” right before had shown with the right actress despite a slightly incomplete script that the visceral nature of the director was still there. The biggest issue, not to get too industry about the failure of “Valerian”, is that in the US, STX Films pretty much released it cold with no anticipation. And it failed. With his new film “Anna”, the trailer was phenomenal building up the aspect of a new action girl in Sascha Luss. Besson, despite anything, has the ability to create wonderfully strong female characters while still engaging in the beauty and the world of modeling he seems to love so much. The trailer simply teased one major scene which in retrospect is interestingly enough a lipnus test. “Anna” approaches what “Red Sparrow”tried to do but with a blank canvas and not Jennifer Lawrence. Within this construct, you have no preconceived notions of who Anna is because that is not her name. This is why you can buy more into the idea of it. Now while much of the movie tries to play to certain spy quotients, it is the nature of freedom that rings true even as the film is set right after the fall of the Soviet Union per se. The KGB essence here is interestingly done both in its recruiting but also the showing of Russia right after that fall. It doesn’t go easy on American intelligence either. It almost makes the point that you are under the thumb of power no matter where you are.
Sascha Luss balances this nicely as “Anna” but it helps that she has a couple actors working against her, who despite that their characters are a bit thin and sometimes more of sexual playthings to Anna than actual connections is interesting. It works because it is a reversal of what was the norm 20 years ago. Cillian Murphy plays one of his more mainstream roles and shows a level of charm and cool we haven’t seen on screen from him in awhile. Luke Evans, right off “The Alienist”, creates the right amount of patriotism while understanding this girl he recruited. Anna’s girlfriend in the modeling world creates the right amount of offset in social representation to show that identity is simply a construct depending what you want in life. It is not a criticism on anything at times with either sex except a certain degree of survival and understanding. Helen Mirren has the most interesting role in that of KGB overseer. This is the most hidden she has been with a sense of cunning, humor and drama that sometimes Besson can get out of his actors. “Red” for Mirren was play. Here she is doing some magnified work. Besson still has it. The action sequences are visceral. He can do it with a smaller amount of money but he likes the toys of big film production. The film is fun to watch, plotted decently, stylized cool (watch out for an INXS song montage) and, while not Besson’s best, far from his worse and continually shows his focus for talent. Initially this reviewer thought this might be a retooling or telling of “Matilda”, the child Natalie Portman played in Besson’s “The Professional” as a grown up assassin. A key plot turn in the movie has Sascha wearing a black bob that has harkings back to that character. Alas “Anna” will probably be lost since, for likely reasons, Summit/Lionsgate released it cold. A movie is a movie, even when it is not….that doesn’t make this one any less entertaining.
By Tim Wassberg