Anon (2018): A Concept That Nearly Pays off

        “Anon” is very much a Philip K. Dick book. This was a man who had great sci. fi. ideas but you never cared about his characters in the end. The adaptations I’ve read have always been better in their adaptation (“Minority Report” and “Blade Runner” as prime examples). He just didn’t get people or empathy, and this film has that exact problem. I’ll get more into that later but I think most of the problem lies in execution. This was a Netflix original with a great main cast, but that wasn’t enough to make it anything more than enjoyable.

The film was directed by Andrew Niccol who also wrote the film and was one of the producers. This is really his vision at the end of the day, and it’s a start. I really wish there’d been more though.

The story follows Sal (Clive Owen) a divorcee dealing with feeling for his ex-wife and a mystery of false suicides. This is a future where all memories are recorded and all the past appear as hacked with the only connection being “The Girl” (Amanda Seyfried). From here he must find out who she is as she murders people connected to her past.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – A world where your memories are recorded. It is very much “Minority Report” in idea and feels like a Philip K. Dick novel. I like it, he created interesting worlds that would drive anyone to paranoia as it did him, and that is something worth exploring. Who wouldn’t want to revisit their past memories clearly? If you have the good memories of the past, why would you leave that up to a dying mind? This core idea is what makes the film work, and is really the only thing that does. Like a Philip K. Dick novel, the world is far more interesting than how the protagonists are expressed.

The Main Characters – I like Sal and like “The Girl.” Both of them are driven to be better but consumed by past mistakes. They work, it is sad they weren’t in a better story as each of them could have changed this world or themselves in major ways that never happens. Each has charisma that the writer did not fully use. You have divorced Sal and his past trauma and you “The Girl” in deep with a corrupt world that she ends up having little control over. I still found the characters worth at least passively following. I guess, if you need an escape, it is worth it for Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried.

Okay:

The Plot – The core mystery is alright. “The Girl” hacks peoples minds and makes them kill themselves and wipes all memory of her even being present. Who she is and Sal’s hunting her down with his agency is the premise. Within this Sal is divorced and has a drinking problem. I thought the plot was okay but it needed more. Sal’s trauma should have been explored more and in the end we never get to know “The Girl.” She doesn’t even have a name and even though the things she does are interesting, we never get deeper motivation.

Don’t go into this film expecting great, it isn’t. If you need a quick escape “Anon” might be your jam. The execution isn’t as nearly as good as the premise, but the cinematography and acting is enjoyable and it is a fun world, even though it needed a lot more fleshing out.

Final Score: 7 / 10

The French Connection (1971): A Great Period Piece Thriller and the Drug War

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     I really enjoyed “The French Connection.” I liked very few of the characters in it, but the story itself and the the fact that it’s a slow thriller with great build up made it a lot of fun to watch. I never felt bored and whether purposeful or not, this film does a great job of showing how unfair the drug war is to communities without power. The fact that it is based off a non-fiction book by the same name also lends power to the narrative and makes me want to read it.

     The film was directed by William Friedkin, written by Ernest Tidyman produced by Philip D’Antoni and based off the book by Robin Moore.

     The story recounts the events of trying to take down the drug lord Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) during his stay in New York City by the detectives Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider). Things soon get out of their control as they discover just how high up Charnier’s influence goes and the problems “Popeye” causes during the course of the investigation.

The Pros: The Writing – Ernest Tidyman did a great job on the script. So much of it is showing rather than telling and we get to figure things out with the Detectives as we never see what Sal or Charnier do in regards to the movement of the drugs. This makes it compelling and drives the thriller, especially since they initially don’t come off as bad people.

The Cinematography – Owen Roizman did a great job on this film. The cinematography pulls you in and captures the tension really well as there is an aura of shadow about everything and the desolate areas take place with contrasted with the bustle of New York create a wonderful sense of mystery and fear.

The Soundtrack – Don Ellis took a classic approach to this soundtrack (sounds similar to any Hitchcock film with it’s own twist) and it serves the story very well. Throughout the soundtrack there is a slow build up of action leading to a finalness and ambiguity, which fits the themes and characters of the film.

Sal – Sal is working with Charnier to get the drugs to sell on the streets and he nearly succeeds even with the police around his home and tracking him everywhere. He is a cheater but we see that he isn’t a murder, at least in the events of this film. He never attacks unless he’s attacked and a lot of what he does goes towards his family. He’s complicated for a minor drug dealer. Tony Lo Bianco did a good job. He was the only memorable minor character.

Alain Charnier – Is the mastermind behind the deal going down and actually manages to escape at the end of the film. He is kind and genial but also works with monsters like his Hitman so has a disregard for those who don’t serve his purposes as “Popeye” does. Fernando Rey did a fantastic job as the antagonist who drives the story and keeps the action and questions going through the film.

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle – “Popeye” is obsessed and is cynical about everyone. We see him call all people liars and beat suspects on multiple occasions. It’s really hard to see him as any sort of heroic given that he targets people, especially African-Americans who have done nothing wrong and acts like a bully. This is contrasted with the sensitivity of Charnier. In the end it is his obsession that is his undoing as he kills someone on the force thinking they were Charnier and escapes into the dark where we here a gunshot. He was complicated, which made him fun to watch. Gene Hackman is also a wonderful actor.

Buddy “Cloudy” Russo – Roy Scheider plays the only character who is remotely sympathetic as he calls out his partner “Popeye” when he does bully. He is also the one who registers what the obsession is doing, especially at the end when “Popeye” kills one of the detectives in his obsession and fear of Charnier.

Life Under the Drug War and Abuse – The drug war disproportionately targets communities without power, largely poor and minority communities and this film does a great job portraying that as we see Russo and Doyle do random shakedowns, beat people when questioning them and never have their force questioned unless it is by one another. This is obviously still going on and is just as real in the late 60’s when it took place as it is today.

The Ending – The ending ends with Doyle shooting his boss and escaping into the dark believing he saw Charnier. A gunshot goes off and later we see in the credits that Charnier was never caught, showing that all of Doyle’s obsession was in the end, kind of empty and didn’t even help himself.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Most of the minor characters are forgettable and none of them really stand out besides Sal. Part of this might be purposeful as they are nothing to the detectives but means to an end, but I would have liked to see more with Charnier’s Hitman, girlfriend and Sal’s spouse. These characters were pretty forgettable which was a shame.

  This is a great thriller that ends up showing a lot more than it may have meant to. I don’t know what side of the story the book takes but this does a good job of showing that there aren’t really any good people in this conflict except maybe Buddy. Everyone else is driven and obsessed and has a disregard for life because of that obsession with meeting their own ends…and their obsessions get others killed. It was also powerful how this film showed how the communities without power are the ones who get the brunt of the war as we saw from the African American bar shakedown and the places were most of the police stakeouts took place. This lended power to the film beyond the very good script, cinematography and acting by the main stars. Honestly, it didn’t need a sequel.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10