Synopsis – Ava is a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, traveling the globe specializing in high profile hits. When a job goes dangerously wrong she is forced to fight for her own survival.
My Take – The moment you scroll through an at least a decade old direct to DVD library you know that action thrillers revolving around mysterious assassins has been the go to sub-genre for filmmakers for a while now, especially starring actors/actresses who haven’t amassed what you would call A-list fame. And to put it as lightly as possible, most of these films are just down right laughably bad, ripping off each other in every possible way. However, things have changed since John Wick (2014) came out and turned into a phenomenon, a phenomenon which also got the right gender swap with Atomic Blonde (2017).
Hence it came as exciting news when it was announced that Jessica Chastain would not only be starring but also producing an actioner which would see her joining the growing market of female assassins. After all she is one of those rare actresses who brings total dedication to every role she plays, and manages to shine even dismal projects (X-Men: Dark Phoenix).
Unfortunately, the venture went through a rough path as the film’s original writer/director Matthew Newton was publicly disgraced by some assault allegations, and Chastain, being a strong advocate of #MeToo, was put under the spotlight for working with him, resulting in his replacement with director Tate Taylor (The Help, The Girl on the Train, Ma). The film also went through a title change from Eve, requiring inexplicably change in post-production, all in order to avoid comparisons to BBC‘s hit series, Killing Eve, which also revolves around a female assassin.
Nevertheless, despite all the troubles it went through, there is no denying of the fact that as much as I wanted to love the film, it also happens to be one of the worst flicks to come out this year.
Borrowing heavily from many other films that came before it, director Taylor’s film, right from the outset, feels tired, uninspired, and seemingly happy enough to follow convention without too much detouring in the hope that it will be entertaining enough to get by. With the exception of a couple of good ideas and a general degree of competency, the film is just sloppy, vacuous, slapdash and, frankly, a bit embarrassing given the talent involved.
The story follows Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain), who following her discharge from the military has been working as highly skilled assassin for a shadowy espionage agency. But despite being excellent at her job, Ava has been under constant reprimand from her employers for her eagerness to ask targets what they’ve done to deserve their end, and to top that off she also struggles with alcoholism.
While Duke (John Malkovich), her handler, trainer, and surrogate father, keeps her protected from the heat, his former protégé Simon (Colin Farrell) and the clandestine agency he’s a representative of, want her out. And when a mission in Riyadh gets botched, Simon is convinced that he wants Ava to atone for past misdeeds with her life in a bid to tie up loose ends and limit the organization’s liability.
Oblivious to the death mark pinned on her Ava sets out for a break by returning to her hometown of Boston for the first time in years to check in on her mother (Geena Davis), while also hoping to reconnect with her sister Judy (Jess Weixler), an aspiring singer-songwriter that just so happens to be romantically involved with Michael (Common), Ava’s ex-fiancée, who she unceremoniously dumped without warning or reason.
This is a kind of story we’ve seen countless times before, unfortunately, the film adds little to the genre to keep views entertained in a film that feels like it was put together from scraps of far better films that were left on the edit room floor. Nowhere near as exciting or playful as one would expect it to be, as this is a film that goes through the motions competently, but with little to no effort.
Whatever empathy we are supposed to feel for the protagonist because of her family issues, as she is a recovering alcoholic, her mother is the opposite of a role model, and her sister is involved with her ex, is undermined by a lack of character development.
The same goes for the subplot, which wreaks havoc not only by Common’s miscasting as a romantic lead, but also thanks to its extension when his character pointlessly gets Ava mixed up in an Asian gambling ring run by Toni (Joan Chen). The narrative’s complete lack of energy or urgency is furthered showcased in the action, which is not slick nor exciting in any way, with director Taylor particularly showing no ability to inject freshness into the film’s stock fight scenes or familiar looking shootouts. With the exception of the climactic struggle between Ava and Simon, the film just stays away from anything fun, or even brutal.
Making matters worse, as the film enters its climax, it makes you feel like it’s missing a whole act. Like they just ran out of money, so staged a fight and the most pathetic foot chase in the history of cinema, merely to get to its open ending.
However, the biggest sin the film commits is that it wastes the talents of its entire cast. Jessica Chastain does everything she can to provide some emotional contours to a character whose entire backstory, from street-kid scuffles to drug addiction and alcoholism, army recruitment, and black-ops assassinations, is revealed over the opening credits. Her charisma and compelling screen presence at least kept me watching as I would have decided otherwise had the actress’ efforts not been evident.
Colin Farrell too makes for a worthy adversary, who manages to deliver on what’s possibly the film’s only nuanced character. Unfortunately the rest of the cast which includes John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Joan Chen, Diana Silvers, Jess Weixler and Ioan Gruffudd don’t leave any worthwhile impression. On the whole, ‘Ava’ is a thoroughly lackluster action thriller which suffers most from its predictability, leading to a lack of the element of surprise.
Directed – Tate Taylor
Rated – R
Run Time – 96 minutes