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Friday, July 25, 2014

ANNA -- DVD review by porfle

One good thing about ANNA (2013) is that Mark Strong plays a good guy and I can like him now instead of just thinking of him as the loathesome Frank D'Amico from KICK-ASS. That is, I can appreciate his acting better now that I've seen him portray the two extremes so well. Of course, those of you who have seen him in a lot of other movies already know this, but while you were watching them I was watching "Hopalong Cassidy" westerns instead.

Anyway, he does a great job as John, a psychic "memory detective" who's down on his luck after suffering a seizure while rooting around in someone else's mind. It seems that the woman's painful memories of home invasion and rape, which we see John observing as a helpless onlooker, have triggered traumatic recollections of his own dead wife and child.

Sebastian (the great Brian Cox of MANHUNTER and X2: X-MEN UNITED) heads the firm John works for and offers him an easy job to help get him back on his feet. John must go to the huge country estate of the Greene family and get their teenaged daughter Anna (Taissa Farmiga, HIGHER GROUND, THE BLING RING), who is starving herself, to eat something. When they meet, Anna displays the usual cryptic, evasive attitude we expect (which, we assume, helps mask her insecurities), and the two trade cat-and-mouse dialogue while feeling each other out.

But what seems like a simple task proves both difficult and disturbing when John starts wandering through this troubled and apparently very damaged girl's labyrinthian psyche. Not only that, but he begins to suspect that the genius-level Anna is playing him by creating false memories to hide her own guilty past while portraying herself as a perpetual victim of everything from sexual abuse at home to extreme bullying at school.

(And who the heck's that weird guy with the mustache who keeps popping up in Anna's memories and following John around?)

What starts out as a leisurely-paced, very low-key character study--slickly filmed and with solid production values--gradually turns into a deepening mystery-thriller which has us hooked before we know it. The story grows more interesting with each new layer of uncertainty as we wonder if John is being used, and by whom--by Judith, the attractive security employee who monitors Anna 24/7 (Indira Varma, who played Therese Wanz in the mini-series "Comanche Moon")? By Anna's father, Robert, who may be guilty of who knows what? By the enigmatic Sebastian? Or perhaps by Anna herself, who seems to get creepier and more manipulative every time we see her?

Naturally, the movie really takes off during the mind-link scenes between John and Anna, which I found riveting. These get really good when John starts losing control of the sessions and we never know what's going to happen or whether or not we're seeing actual memories or images that Anna is staging for John's benefit. If the latter is true, then Anna is a cold-blooded murderer who poisoned three of her classmates. If not, then who's trying to make her look like one, and how are they doing it?

Mark Strong, as mentioned before, is quite effective as a likable good guy with whom we can identify. The same goes for Taissa Farmiga as Anna, at least until we start suspecting her of being some kind of monster, at which point her performance seems to get even better. The rest of the cast are fine, especially Brian Cox, who can do no wrong. The film itself is eye-pleasing and nicely rendered--a good feature debut by director Jorge Dorado after specializing in short subjects.

The DVD from Vertical Entertainment is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16 x 9 (2.35:1) and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. I reviewed a barebones screener and thus can't comment on whatever extras, if any, the final DVD may have.

It all comes to a spooky, darkened-house finale that had me on the edge of my seat before twisting all the various plot threads around each other like a braid. ANNA has elements of such films as MINORITY REPORT, THE DEAD ZONE, and THE SIXTH SENSE (with a score that sounds like something out of the latter by way of THE DARK KNIGHT), but it doesn't really try to be that grandiose. It's more like slipping into a vivid dream that gradually devolves into confusion, uncertainty, and, finally, fear.

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