by Ian Morton
Originally titled Eve, the Jessica Chastain led spy thriller first ran into problems back in 2018 when the films director Matthew Newton backed out amid concerns surrounding domestic assault violations in his personal life. Rather than canning the project, Chastain (acting as both star and producer) kept the project in motion, keeping the original script but bringing in previous collaborator Tate Taylor (The Help) to get the film on track.
After a very short run in cinemas back in August, the film was met with brutal reviews and a very snotty audience score on just about every site you can imagine. Now having seen it after it dropped this past Monday on Netflix, not only can I confirm that Ava is just as bad as many have claimed, it might even be worse given I’ve watched it with my film collection behind me.
Now what do I mean by this? Well the problem with the film is that it strives to tell 2 stories in one; one being a fully fleshed out espionage thriller hoping to tread a similar path to genre powerhouses Jason Bourne and John Wick, the other, a family led drama about abandonment, drug addiction and a family love triangle. On their own, these stories have been very successful on the big screen, with many examples becoming mainstays of any decent DVD collection. Sitting down to watch Ava in the cinema, you can sit by yourself without the distraction of what has come before, at home watching it via Netflix, its hard not to be reminded that better films exist as the DVD cases stare down at you with mocking judgement.
The film opens with the all too familiar opening title scrawl, an infographic CV giving us a glimpse at who the antagonist is. Straight away, and unhelpfully for the film, you’re put in mind of the Bourne franchise as you see the heroines image emblazoned on a series of passports. Its not long before Ava is meeting with her handler Duke (played by John Malkovich) who quickly informs her that many in the assassin organisation she works for – led by Colin Farrell’s, Simon – deem her a loose canon and that she might need to watch her back. Given the myriad of films the opening sequence and titles bring to mind, it feels like the foundations have been set for pure action set pieces and lots of running…the reality is very different.
Almost immediately, the film segues to Ava in an AA meeting, reminiscing on her past and harbouring on what led her to down the path she now lives. While you could say this change in tone provides an interesting twist, the reality is a jarring change of pace, needlessly giving baggage to the character that the film already feels too light on the ground to really dig into. About half way through as the story jumped back and forth between plot lines, I wanted to scream into my pillow as it just didn’t make any sense why we needed an intimate family drama offsetting what could have been a passable B-movie actioner.
By trying to balance two very juxtaposed stories, what you end up with are two very flimsy examples of each genre; an action film with very uninspiring fight scenes and a drama that lacks the depth it really needs. Try as she might, the wonderfully talented Jessica Chastain is left fighting until the end, clamouring to keep the film alive as the script slowly falls apart around her.
Its a real shame given her involvement in making the film that there wasn’t more positives to take from it. Its the perfect example of a film that just didn’t work at the script level and perhaps needed a couple of redrafts to get it on track. While the current pandemic may give you some spare time to catch up on whats new on Netflix, I would recommend taking a look at the DVD collection and revisiting a classic before trying to find something new in Ava.
Ava is out now on Netflix.
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