Every day I sit down with some piece of cinema or other and puzzle over the last of that movie’s opening credits.
“Directed by…Joe and Anthony Russo, Olivia Milch, Deon Taylor.”
Who? A generation, maybe two generations, of accomplished, smart and indeed visionary directors have dropped from the screen. Hollywood, in cost-cutting/control-seizing mode, has simply disappeared them — or exiled them to streaming video or cable.
Andrew Niccol was an in-demand writer (“The Truman Show”) before making his mark as a director of stylish sci-fi in “Gattaca,” “In Time” “S1m0ne.” Not great films, frankly, but competent, thoughtful and distinct-looking movies that had a look, a cast and a chance to make a distinct statement.
His last theatrical feature, “Good Kill,” was a drone-pilot quickie starring his muse, Ethan Hawke. Now Netflix has given him cash and license to make “Anon,” a little “not-that-far-in-an-alternate-future” thriller with a look that instantly says, “Niccol” to the cognoscenti.
Fashions just a tad ahead of the curve, retro-futuristic cars (vintage Mercs, Citroens and Toronados), bleak blue-grey skies and tech that loads visual ID, messages, technical data and advertising right on your eyeball.
Everybody’s on everybody else’s eyeball. Except, as Det. Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) discovers one day walking to work, for this one stranger.
“Unknown: Error,” his eyeball readout tells him as she (Amanda Seyfried) passes.
This woman is depriving the world of her ID on the grid. No GoPro in-your-head video recording capabilities, which makes police work darned easy.
People are dying in the Big Impersonal City. Their “re-cog” eyes short out when the killer walks into their midst. They can’t “see” the criminal even if they can’t sense the danger.
“What’s the world coming to when our murderers won’t tell us who they are? Who can HACK a human?”
The cops must rely on shoe leather and memory to figure out who this killer for hire might be. Because she’s erasing her tracks.
Sal and his partner (Colm Feore) need to find a “fixer,” the woman erasing IDs, backgrounds and memories. Sal sets a trap. But is “she” (Seyfried) the one falling into it, or the person setting it?
Niccol, as is his wont, loses himself in the suits, the sex, the pristine, austere post-modernist sets, the lighting, the voyeuristic footage (what the eye, of victims, cops or the killer, “sees”) and the graphics. The heads-up display is quite convincing and very much within the realm of the possible — Google Glass in your eye, maybe Google Glass 4.0.
Owen has a smoldering, moist-eyed yet butch presence. But he’s rarely more than mildly interesting on the screen, which explains his many shots at The Big Time and their limited success.
Seyfried works a lot more, but all too often on pictures like this — a character of limited emotional range, a little nudity, and on to the next job. That would be “Mamma Mia 2.”
It’s the story and the tone that turn “Anon” into a droning affair, sort of imitation Kubrick, more mise en scene than action, a cat-and-mouse match that doesn’t play up that battle of wits because that’s harder to write than endless camera placement instructions, conference table debates and shootings.
“Anonymity is the enemy” is a fascinating subject to poke at, though.
“They try to look, I try not to be seen.”
“They say it’s for our own safety.”
“Then why don’t you feel safe?”
I wish I could call it a Niccol “comeback,” though it isn’t, wish I could say I was riveted to the screen by the suspense and thought-provoking discussion of memory, privacy perception and data mining.
But I wasn’t. It’s no “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” no “Gattaca,” even. Visually striking, thought-provoking yet emotionally drained, “Anon” is just too empty to make one care.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, violence, bloodshed, sexual situations
Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore
Credits:Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40