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Andrew Niccol brings another of his Philip K Dick-style futurist high concepts to the movie screen, and it doesn’t entirely come off. This is a self-consciously stark, bleak, hi-tech criminal noir, hardboiled in a postmodern style, as if it had been sealed in a plastic pouch and zapped for 40 minutes in a sophisticated microwave oven. There is quite a lot of soft-porn raunch, including a lesbian lingerie sex scene that is nothing if not quaint. It is set in what looks like New York, or possibly some other North American city, perhaps Vancouver or Toronto. The production design desaturates the landscape and makes everything look almost monochrome.
Clive Owen plays Detective Sal Frieland, a divorced, careworn city cop who is anguished by the memory of a dead son. His job is made wearyingly straightforward, as digital information about anyone and anything is now readily available. Committing crime and getting away with it is pretty much impossible, as everyone leaves a digital footprint. Consciousness is recorded, like video, and uploaded to the ether. As Sal – and we – look around, little pop-up windows appear on screen, attached to everyone and all relevant objects, giving us names, histories and other details. These pop-ups appear and disappear with dizzying speed. Perhaps Anon would work better on DVD or download, so you could freeze the action and read all this bonus material at your leisure.
Frieland is working a particularly weird case. Someone has been killing people and, just before the fatal shot is fired, been hacking into their consciousness for some sadistic reason: showing the victim from the murderer’s point of view, the gun raised to their now panicky, sightless face witnessing their own horror. But who is doing this and why?
Frieland and his tough superior, Detective Charles Gattis, played by Colm Feore, have a strong suspicion that it is “Anon”. Amanda Seyfried plays this mysterious woman, the only person who does not have a pop-window or digital label – she is off-grid. The indications are that she is a high-end professional hacker who, for a price, can remove guilty secrets and experiences from anyone’s consciousness record, to which spouses or the authorities may have access. Is she now simply whacking clients, having relieved them of their cash? And isn’t that a rather clumsily low-tech thing for her to be doing?
Inevitably, Frieland decides that the only way he can find out what’s going on is to entrap her, use himself as bait, posing as someone who wishes to use her services. There is a spark between them – perhaps as two lost souls together. A dangerous game.
Like so many movies about virtual reality, Anon is top-heavy with its own premise. The impact of the action is lost because we can’t be sure of the status of what appears to be happening, and there is something a little bit boring about the conundrum. Owen’s slightly undemonstrative, yet sometimes rather stricken acting style arguably goes well with the affectless sci-fi world. I have happy memories of his appearance in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men in 2006. Seyfried does her best, but it is a bit of a cipher role. Anon lacks identity and arrives at the finish line in a desiccated, cerebral, unsatisfying style.
•Anon is released on 4 May on Netflix in the US, and on 11 May in cinemas in the UK.
Source: The Guardian
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