Watching Netflix movies that you’ve never heard of has replaced picking up a VHS tape at random from Blockbuster. It’s always been a dangerous game, but at least with streaming services you’re not as beholden to your choice anymore. You can jump ship in the middle and find something else any time you choose. Still, science fiction has always been a crap shoot when it comes to the leftover titles. There are some bad sci-fi movies out there, especially with studios like The Asylum out there.
You can still find some decent movies on streaming though, even if they’re not high on the front page. You can also find some hot garbage. So which one is Anon, the techno-thriller starring Clive Owen? I’d say neither, and it likely falls in the “it could be worse” category. Is Anon worth watching though?
The movie takes place in a somewhat distant future dominated by technology similar to Google Glass. The difference here is it’s embedded in your eyes and brain, likely through some sort of implant (the movie never explains). You walk down the street and are fed information about everything you see. The names of people that walk by, the names of shops, advertisements, and whatever else you can imagine occupy part of a person’s field of view at all times. The biggest catch to all of this is that everyone’s lives are recorded 24/7 through their own eyes. There’s no hiding from the police or whoever else may want to take advantage of your “recording”.
There are some strong Ghost in the Shell vibes here as well stuff we tend to see a lot in contemporary science fiction. Google, Facebook, and the like might be the biggest current influences in sci-fi today, and for good reason. That kind of thing may come off as a bit tiresome at this point though given just how much of the genre uses it as a jumping off point. The exception would be bringing something new. Anon presents potential but never really breaks through with a satisfying, refreshing take of its own.
The movie begins with Sal Frieland, played by Owen, walking down a busy street, scanning the names of passers-by, when he notices a woman with no name. The character and the audience file this away while we move on to the police station, where Frieland works as a detective. At a grieving father’s request, Frieland shows the man his son’s “file”, which depicts the boy committing suicide in first person perspective. Frieland then deals with a woman claiming that a maid stole jewelry from her hotel room. The recording tech is then used to find out whether or not her claim is true. This provides us a nice glimpse of how police use ever-present recordings from every individual to solve crimes. It seems like a pretty easy job, really.
It turns out that Frieland’s job just got interesting though: a hacker is accessing people’s own recordings, confusing the person so they can’t see through their own eyes. The hacked victim is then murdered. In fact, the victims can only view the killer’s recording, effectively making them watch their own demise, seeing everything through the killer’s eyes. This would be fairly uncomfortable or morbid to watch if filmed differently. The acting on the part of the victims is subpar at times. Also, when we see recordings through other people’s eyes, their movements are just not natural. The recordings in general could have been pretty cool and unique. They’re just not filmed well though in my opinion.
The rest of the movie has a similar vibe. I’m not sure if it’s a technique issue or simply the result of a smaller budget, but there is a lack of organic feel to this movie. Nothing seems lived in or natural. It all feels like a movie set, the camera between you and the movie being very present. Not exactly great for suspension of disbelief.
Amanda Seyfried plays the hacker that Frieland is chasing (not a spoiler). Similar to Owen, she does all right with what she’s given. In both cases I don’t think the script did anyone any favors. Seyfried does a good job conveying an interesting combination of mystery and a painful past. She has the upper hand on Owen for virtually the entire film, which is one way I would say the script did in fact help out the actors.
Owen is decent here, but I’m not sure if it’s weak dialogue or his own disinterest that made the character pretty unmemorable (maybe both). I’m a fan of his work, especially Sin City and Closer. I find him to be a very capable actor, but there’s just not much here to work with. His character is completely generic other than some really tired cop tropes. He drinks, he’s divorced, he clashes with his boss, etc. etc. etc. You’ve seen it all before. He also laments his young son’s tragic death, which does play a role in the film, but also smacked of wanting to remind people of Minority Report to me.
That’s the thing here: this movie tends to remind me of other movies I liked better. I have to agree with many of the iMDB reviews I’d read after watching. They state that the movie had a cool concept but never really hit its stride after that. There’s nothing wrong with the foundation here, even if I’d already seen it before. After that it’s just not that clever though. The movie doesn’t get much into the politics and ethics of this technology either, or its origins. Plus, and this might be the one criticism I have of the Ghost in the Shell franchise too, why does anyone think this tech is a good idea if people are so easily hacking into it? In this movie and GitS, nothing happens if the technology isn’t regularly abused. It begs the question then as to why it exists at all.
If you’re intrigued but not heavy into sci-fi or you just want to kill some time, Anon holds it together enough by the end to not be a waste of your time. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but this is not a bad movie either. There was one seemingly huge plot hole that I might have spotted, but I’m honestly not sure if I just missed some info earlier. I also did not find the pacing to drag like many other viewers did. It’s cohesive, well-acted given the circumstances, and is somewhat flashy and inventive in its own way. It just doesn’t do much more than hold your interest during the modest 100-minute run time.