Mark Strong is such a great Brit-villain ( Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass) that he landed a part in that clever bad-guys-drive-Jaguars commercial that’s been making the rounds since the Super Bowl.
So he’s cast against type as the hero of Anna, a solid if unsurprising thriller about a “memory detective” on a tricky case.
Mindscape is the name of the agency that uses John Washington (Strong). In the not-so-distant future, psychics are taken seriously because of their ability to mind-meld with subjects and wander through their memories with them. Their work is commonplace enough to be accepted by the courts.
John, a psychic who has suffered the loss of his wife, is eased back into the work by the case of a rich teen (Taissa Farmiga) who has stopped eating. John revisits her memories with her and solves that problem in a flash. But Anna is a compelling subject –— flirtatious, clever and with stories about a nightmarish life with mom and stepdad.
“I’m not a sociopath,” she purrs, “just smart enough to think like one.”
John listens to Anna’s pleas, “You’re all I have.” And down the rabbit hole of her memory he goes — from one of the many boarding schools she quit on into the more distant past.
Is she manipulating her memories and his experience of them? Are her parents (Saskia Reeves, Richard Dillane) trying to keep her quiet?
Is John’s boss in on it? They cast Brian Cox in the part, and let’s face it, Brian Cox probably drives a Jaguar.
First-time director Jorge Dorado learned his chops on the sets of movies by Guillermo del Toro and Pedro Almodovar, and he wrings as much suspense out of the memory flashbacks as he can. Anna was originally titled Mindscape and has a hint of such earlier films as Dreamscape and even TV’s The Mentalist about it. Anna is under constant surveillance, but those cameras have many blind spots that conveniently mesh with “accidents” that happen on the estate where she lives.
Strong is a compelling lead, and he is subtle enough to get across John’s rising paranoia without chewing the scenery.
But what little suspense the script conjures up is frittered away in the performances, particularly Farmiga’s. The younger sister of the formidable Vera Farmiga gives flat, rushed and unconvincing line readings, especially in her paragraph-long, exposition-packed monologues.
Is that by design? Is this a clever teen “acting” to manipulate her memory detective?
The actress should be better at masking that, if that’s the case. And if it isn’t, she should be just … better.
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