Review: Anon

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: In a future where citizens are forced to wear technology that tracks their actions 24/7, a cop (Clive Owen) hunts a serial killer, whose victims have all had dealings with a mysterious hacker (Amanda Seyfried), who’s off the grid.

REVIEW: Like a lot of Andrew Niccol’s recent work, ANON should be better than it actually is. That’s not a knock on the director, who’s responsible for two great films, GATTACA and LORD OF WAR, but ANON is very much like his last one – GOOD KILL. So many of the ingredients are just right, from the leading man to the way it's shot, to even the way it’s being distributed. It’s too bad then that after a solid first-act, it turns into a generic potboiler, with a mystery that’s never that intriguing.

The technology Niccol introduces makes this feel almost like a “Black Mirror” episode, with the idea being we’ll all get implants that record our behavior twenty-four hours a day, meaning it can be played back by anyone who has access. If someone commits murder, they’re flagged by the central server, and there’s no escape. Of course, there’s no privacy at all, and the movie imagines that in this case the rich and powerful will hire people like Amanda Seyfried’s hacker to literally hack their minds.

The technology is probably too invasive to ever really happen, but in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, it raises some interesting questions. Niccol’s shot it in a dynamic way, cutting from widescreen 2:35:1 in the real world sequences, and 1:78:1 in the app-enhanced perspective. It gives the film an interesting visual pop that will play well via Netflix.

Niccol’s also got a great leading man, with Clive Owen is well-cast in a part that comes pretty natural to him, that of the hard-bitten, rumpled noir hero. He’s always been one of my favorite actors, and this is probably as close as we’ll ever get to the Raymond Chandler/ Philip Marlowe adaptation he was linked with some years ago. He looks to be having fun, especially when he has to go undercover as a stockbroker doing some misdeeds, although it’s hard to swallow his cop bosses would be cool with him doing coke and having sex with prostitutes, even if it is the means to an end.

By contrast, Amanda Seyfried has the more boring role, as the unnamed hacker. In fact, Niccol’s treatment of his female characters comes up short throughout, with him putting an emphasis on the lurid that feels like a throwback to an older style of filmmaking. Case in point, Seyfried gets virtually no solo screen time, but we do see her topless. Ditto, a scene where a lesbian couple is murdered. Both look like Victoria Secret models, and their nude death scene is played over and over. It’s clearly meant to be titillating, but this kind of mix of sex and violence has always made me uneasy, and I’m not sure Niccol has a good enough endgame in mind to justify it. It feels like the kind of thing that would have been tacked-on in an eighties flick by horny studio exec notes.

The biggest problem though is that ANON’s mystery isn’t that intriguing. By the time I made it half way into the film, my interest started to wane in a big way, and to be honest, were I not reviewing it I’m not sure I would have made it to the finish. A bit more action might have made it more palatable, but the story never lives up to its potential. In the end, like many other Netflix originals, this is OK for a background movie on a Sunday afternoon, but not nearly as engaging as the first act makes you think it’s going to be.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.