Starring: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova
Director: Luc Besson
Bisexual kick-ass heroines have become a bit of a thing. First Lisbeth Salander, then Lorraine Broughton (of Atomic Blonde) and now Anna Poliatova. In all three, their sexualities are incidental to the plot, but they frolick with women just as much as men. Is it because filmmakers think they can’t make a spy movie without sexualising its female characters through the eyes of its protagonist? Maybe, but it doesn’t negate from the fact we have a bisexual lead, which makes it a Pink Lens film.
Anna (newcomer Sasha Luss) is a model, discovered on the streets of Moscow but working in Paris. Climbing up the social ladder with her girlfriend Maud (Lera Abova), they encounter men aplenty, including an arms dealer for whom Anna has particular designs: to assassinate him. Recruited into the KGB by Agent Tchenkov (Luke Evans - Beauty And The Beast, Fast & Furious franchise, The Hobbit), she was taken under the wing of the ruthless Olga (Helen Mirren - The Queen, RED, State Of Play) who assigns her targets in and around Paris. But at the same time, CIA boss Agent Miller (Cillian Murphy - Inception, Dunkirk, 28 Days Later) has a vendetta against the Russians and is hot on the trail of Anna and her activities.
This is Luc Besson (Leon, Lucy, The Fifth Element) at his best: all guns blazing action that delights in showing off France in a mainstream movie, all with a strong but beautiful European female lead. Some of the action sequences are sublime, using long tracking shots that weave around the fighting, exhibiting flawless fight choreography that makes it impossible to spot the stunts. Anna’s first mission at a restaurant in Moscow is particularly adroit, with a high-octane pulse-racing gun battle that sees her frenziedly trying to compensate for being given an unloaded gun. Besson is a master at this kind of sequence and he really gets to show off and flex his creative muscles throughout this film.
It’s funny how spy films nowadays are always period pieces set toward the end of the Cold War. There’s something romantic about this era, where the goodies’ and baddies’ only differences are ideological and geographic, where one can easily masquerade as the other. The West being good versus the East being bad is such an easy binary for cinema that it makes for simple exposition… except here, Anna is our lead. Where Red Sparrow failed, Anna succeeds in creating a heroine aligned with the East but whose motives are completely personal, helping whichever side will help her. This leads to double cross after triple cross after quadruple cross, making for thrills aplenty as it skips back forth in its narrative, leaving clues that leave you asking questions but moving on so quickly that you forget about them until they become relevant again.
Slick and stylish, this ascribes to all the composite tropes of the Cold War spy genre, but it also goes in the opposite direction from the gritty realism of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and goes for glamour and espionage like a Timothy Dalton Bond movie. It feels like Salt but with a coherent plot, even if its timeline does feel somewhat loose (I’m fairly sure USB sticks didn’t exist in the early 90s, or wireless internet). It lacks the vibrant visual style of Atomic Blonde, but with an enigmatic ice blonde lead who is actually Russian (in a striking debut from Sasha Luss – I hope we see a LOT more from her), this feels like an auteur tackling a genre movie with aplomb. As for her sexuality, maybe it is there for glamour’s sake, but it does feel good to see nobody bat an eyelid at her having a girlfriend.
OUT NOW IN CINEMAS.