Film reviews

Anon – Film Review

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger

If ever there was a more timely movie release, you’d be hard pressed to name it.

In this age of the surveillance state and the actions of Facebook, Google and others, where personal data is a commodity to be bought and sold, Andrew Niccol presents us with Anon, an alternate version of our world where privacy is a myth, where every moment of your life is recorded and broadcast to everyone around you through a version of augmented reality tech connected to a worldwide network known as “Ether”. Driving cars, making payments, phonecalls, all communication or interaction is done within the Ether to the extent that even babies are connected to it.

Big Brother is not only watching you, everyone else is as well and in this world police work has often become a simple matter of routine. A question exists over how someone died? Simply play back the last moments of their life, as seen through their eyes. In this world Clive Owen’s detective Sal Frieland comes across as bored and jaded, tired of simply watching events after the fact. When he is presented with an actual murder where the identity of the killer is unknown you can almost see the spark of life returning to him as his interest is piqued.

“What’s our world coming to when murderers won’t tell us who they are?”

Into this world comes Amanda Seyfried as “The Girl”, the “unknown – error”, our own glitch in the matrix, someone who can remove any indiscretion from your record in the Ether, cover up any illegal or immoral act…for a price. But when her customers begin to show up dead it becomes increasingly difficult for her to remain anonymous with Sal on her trail.

The world presented here is not a desperately huge step away from the one we find ourselves in now, the technology so close as to be believable. While a movie about science fiction, it would be difficult to describe it as a science-fiction movie. This is a neo-noir thriller of hard bitten detectives with tragic pasts flirting with mysterious women in black while hunting an unseen killer. The technology is core to the story, but not the focus, giving the audience ample time to mull over the core message of an individual’s right to privacy while at the same time the authorities within this world cry that “Anonymity is the enemy.”

Strong visuals and a fine performance from the leads, however, are not enough to make up for the problems with the story, especially in the third act. The cliches begin to slip in, characters make decisions that are not only counter intuitive given what they know about the killer they’re chasing, they’re downright reckless. For example, when you know that the hacker you are chasing is able to edit anyone’s record to the point where it is almost impossible to detect, why would you immediately assume another character is lying when their version of events doesn’t tally up with the record?

With a strong beginning and middle it was a genuine disappointment to see the third act slipping into mediocrity with previously intelligent characters making baffling decisions simply for the sake of moving the story along. Again, you know you are pursuing someone who can hack what you see in real time, who has already made you see terrible things and you have no control over it. Why would you then assume you are safe to drive a car?

The final nail in the coffin of disappointment is an attempt at a last minute twist that rings painfully hollow and leaves the audience scratching their heads in bemusement. There’s no foreshadowing, no indication of this particular twist but suddenly boom, there we are and we are left with a sour taste in our mouths as we try to understand just how we got to this point.

The story winds up with a phrase that often gets bandied around in this current atmosphere of fear and mistrust, between the government and the individual. On the one hand you have the oft-cited “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” but here our story is closed out with the alternative “It’s not that I have something to hide. I have nothing I want you to see.”

Before closing out, special mention should be given to the soundtrack. The music here is provided by the talented Christophe Beck, a man who has brought us such wide ranging offerings as the bombastic soundtrack to Edge of Tomorrow, the more whimsical offering from Trolls and even the music from Steve Martin’s version of The Pink Panther. Here we have a more downbeat, synth heavy soundtrack which fits nicely with the ambience of the movie as a whole but which manages not to intrude too heavily where it’s not welcome.

During the Q&A after the screening with director Andrew Niccol and lead actor Clive Owen the topic of privacy came up repeatedly in audience questions with the running theme throughout the session being that there was no war for privacy, we just gave it all away. It also came to light that Clive Owen himself shuns any sort of social media platform, remaining stubbornly “analogue”, to use a term from the film. This is the third film release produced in partnership with Sky Cinema and there was also a discussion about whether Clive and Andrew felt that this simultaneous release in cinemas and at home on Sky was a good thing or not and whether going to the cinema was falling out of fashion.

As mentioned above, this is the third release of four currently planned movies in the “Sky Cinema Originals Films” series, the previous two efforts being Monster Family and Hurricane Heist , and while all three have been far from terrible there’s still definitely room for improvement. Anon is a step in the right direction but audiences will be left hoping and wanting for more.

Anon is in cinemas and on Sky Cinema from May 11th.

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