The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Anna is the story of a "memory detective" who uses advanced technology to get inside people's minds. At one point, he had a wife who got lost in his skills, which allowed her to see their deceased son. Does this sound familiar? That's probably because Anna has more than a passing similarity to Inception in overall concept and a few specific plot points. In fact, the temptation is there to call it Diet Inception. I'll stop short of doing that, though, because once the plot gets going, it takes on far darker subject matter than Christopher Nolan's film did. The point is just that, for whatever else it has working in its favor, it is impossible not to think of Inception when watching Anna, and that's a little distracting.

Mark Strong plays John Washington, a widowed memory detective. His particular skill was solving criminal cases, but he left the job after suffering a stroke during a session that spun out of control. Now financially desperate, he returns to ask his boss, Sebastian (Brian Cox), for work. Sebastian gives him the case no one seems to want: John is assigned to explore the mind of Anna (Taissa Farmiga), a 16-year-old girl who has gone on a hunger strike after being accused of attempting to murder three classmates. Anna is initially ambivalent about John's process, but she eventually comes to trust him. And her memories offer a disturbing portrait of what happened at her elite prep school if they can be trusted, that is.

Anna is extremely well-acted. Mark Strong again demonstrates real intensity onscreen. Not macho, aggressive intensity, but rather a seriousness of purpose that makes him an ideal choice to play John Washington. Strong shows us the character's mental wheels turning all the time, as John struggles to make sense of what he sees in Anna's mind and reconcile it to what the facts seem to indicate. Taissa Farmiga is equally good. She does a smart thing in playing Anna completely straight, giving no clue as to whether she is insane, troubled, or normal. That ambiguousness adds suspense in the third act when we find out. Director Jorge Dorado guides both actors well in their performances, while also giving Anna an atmospheric visual style and a solid pace. This is a movie whose 98 minutes pass relatively quickly.

The problem is Guy Holmes' screenplay, which would have benefited from a lot more detail. The whole mystery about what happened to Anna is surprisingly shallow, particularly in light of some of the themes introduced. It needed many more specifics to really succeed an explanation of how the memory invasion process works, more background on her rivalries at school, an expanded history of her family, detail on how exactly John looks for clues, etc. Because we don't get these things, the movie never completely pulls us in. By comparison, Inception was so incredibly detailed in both its pseudo-science and its central caper that every beat of the story was mesmerizing. Lack of expansion also creates a more serious problem: the clues don't lead toward what happened to Anna so much as they lead to the big twist ending. It's not hard to see what that twist is before it's formally revealed.

Anna is competently made and has a terrific cast, so it's a pretty easy watch. It holds your attention, especially as it begins to introduce some controversial elements. There is an inherently intriguing idea at the core. At the same time, one cannot shake the feeling that it could have been more than it ultimately is. In movies of this sort, you can't go halfway. The more information the audience has, the more invested they become. Anna gives enough to be moderately diverting, but not enough to ever be truly riveting.

( 1/2 out of four)

Anna is rated R for nude sexual images. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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