Have you ever watched In Bruges? This film was a triumphant mix of wit and sarcasm, taking a hitwoman with a big heart and using it to create an emotional dark comedy. Well, remove the comedy, the sympathetic character portrayals, pretty much anything else you liked about it, and you might get something like Ava. This is undeniably not a good film, despite its star-studded cast, and so we must ask: where did it all go wrong?
One can see why Netflix had so much faith in the project. It has all the makings of a good film: excellent acting, an exciting plot, action… and somehow it is still incredibly boring. The film lacks character; watching it, one feels as though director Tate Taylor had been commissioned to make a spy film and did just that, except without using any creativity or individuality whatsoever.
Clichés are also carelessly tossed about, and nothing is done to execute them in a way one might find refreshing, producing a movie that every viewer will have seen before. Jessica Chastain plays a hitwoman with a guilty conscience on the run from her employers Colin Farrell and John Malkovich, the latter being her handler-cum-father-figure. It is a story in desperate need of a revamp: the fact that this is not done is the most frustrating thing about watching this film.
Attention should have been given especially to Chastain’s titular role. On paper, Ava is a three-dimensional character turned absolute badass, with all the potential to become an iconic action hero for Chastain’s CV. However, Taylor does not take any initiative to achieve this. Ava’s fight scenes are shoddily developed, poorly staged, and proper focus is not given to the aspects of this character that make her so great to watch.
At the beginning of the movie, a montage of newspaper clippings and confidential files is shown in the opening titles that is supposed to explain Ava’s backstory, and how she came to be a hitwoman. It’s as if the producers couldn’t be bothered to work the information into the film – or watched it and realised it might not be clear – so instead threw this in during post-production. The montage is cringey, confusing, and proves that first impressions really do matter.
I won’t attempt to suggest how it could have been improved, but I will say that above all else, one should take away from Ava that no amount of good acting can save a film. Killing Eve, for instance, is another story of a loose canon hitwoman and her caring handler, which adopts a beautifully feminine, sun-drenched European aesthetic that has since become synonymous with the show. They’ve also introduced a new cat-and-mouse storyline, which is very refreshing. Watching Ava, you find yourself wishing that something like this had been done, or indeed anything at all to stop you from dozing off on the sofa.
Sadly, Ava takes no such creative licence. It is a late-night B movie at its core. Every aspect of it has potential, but it is never explored. But watching Ava is not a fruitless endeavour. If anything, this is a lesson in the sheer amount it takes to put a good film together, showing viewers just how awful something can be if the effort is not put in. So, next time you watch a film you really enjoy, or skip through an awards ceremony screening to see who gets Best Actress, remember all the wonderful work it takes to make a film watchable: it really is awe-inspiring.
Image: MisterHP7 via Wikimedia Commons