By Marta Macedo, Third Year, Film & TV
After sitting through what was technically only a 97-minute runtime, even if it felt at least double that, Tate Taylor’s Ava (2020) left me with two questions: why does it exist in the first place and, most importantly, why is Jessica Chastain actively sabotaging her own career?
Ava follows its titular character (Chastain), a highly-skilled assassin on a dodgy company’s payroll who strives to reconcile with her estranged family after a badly executed hit job. Chastain, whose performances have been widely acclaimed time and time again in films such as Interstellar (2014), The Tree of Life (2011) and Tate Taylor’s own The Help (2011), can be seen trying to lend some refinement and subtlety to her character. However, there’s only so much one can do to improve a film that misses the mark as consistently as this one does.
With quick-paced editing, hard cuts and intensively choreographed fight scenes, the style and tone of the film fit seamlessly into the late 2000s, early 2010s action movie template. Even its very last shot, in which Chastain walks down the street, her hood pulled over her head, electronic music kicking in just as John Malkovich finishes his voice-over, is wholly reminiscent of box-office successes such as Salt (2010) and Wanted (2008). The issue here, though, is that this is the kind of movie that was being made ten or so years ago – so, why is Taylor making it now?
Lacking in freshness, motivation and genre-twisting innovation of any sort, the film can’t help coming across as dated to its audience. Its most exciting moments may be due to the John Wick-esque vibes it strains to incorporate into some of the fighting sequences, through neon lighting and more-thought-out-than-usual framing but even these are few and far between, culminating in an unmemorable and generic meshing of styles. Though the big industry names attached to it may help in securing a greater viewership, the people who tune in to see Colin Farrell and John Malkovich will invariably end up disappointed by the material they were given to work with.
This is the kind of movie that was being made ten or so years ago – so, why is Taylor making it now?
The underdevelopment of its characters is the film’s worst problem, as it seems to at times forget to give them any motivation, while clearly overcompensating later on with overly expositional dialogue and cliché storylines. Ragingly spitting out lines from a stilted script, Farrell appears to be playing a version of his character from In Bruges (2008), only this time stripped of any nuance or charisma. The most notable part of his performance might, in fact, be his moustache: a pointillism masterpiece, I spent the entire film thinking he’d accidentally washed half of it off in the bathroom and they’d forgotten to retouch it.
Malkovich is Malkovich – a cryptic mentor, strangely fatherly and overall, too recognisably Malkovich to be acknowledged as anything more than an overblown cameo. And while any Diana Silvers’ screen time is unquestionably a joyous occasion, her character (Farrell’s daughter) serves little to no purpose, being rendered fully pointless up until the very last five seconds, in which she essentially sets up an unnecessary sequel.
If a third of this film’s runtime had been spent on building up its story rather than on various shots of Chastain jogging around Boston, it might have had a chance at being something verging on coherent. As it stands, though, Taylor has made it impossible for its audience to ignore just how unoriginal and out of place Ava feels in 2020.
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