FIB Film Review – Anon

I’ll remain an Andrew Niccol fan for life, but he’s disappointed me lately with Good Kill, The Host and In Time, so I went into Anon with trepidation.

Photo Credit: The Upcoming

The problem with a lot of movies that weave in warnings about the misuse of technology (or any human institution) is that they get too didactic and forget to package their message with a gripping yarn, resulting in it feeling like you’re being lectured to by a stern teacher. That’s never been Niccol’s problem – he’s too good a storyteller – but his recent efforts have just lacked a certain zing that makes them effective 90 minute self-enclosed stories that work as cinema.

Anon effortlessly re-establishes his chops. It’s a near future where we all have augmented reality implants in our heads that not only give us visual field data about everything we see (projecting gigantic ads onto buildings, telling us about the specials in a store, telling us everyone’s name, occupation and more as we pass them), they record everything we experience and store in in a cloud computing-like infrastructure called The Ether.

As you can imagine from the above description, the high-concept concern Niccol is writing about is the death of privacy in the digital age. Police detective Sal (Clive Owen, and the film was so good I didn’t have the usual trouble looking past the smarmier-than-thou manner I usually can’t stand in him) makes his living searching the digital records of everyone’s encoded and uploaded memories and experiences in order to solve crimes.

As he passes an attractive woman in the street (Amanda Seyfried) and is met with some sort of data block that doesn’t let him see anything about her, he’s concerned but doesn’t think too much more about it. But a nasty serial killer is on the loose, hijacking his victim’s vision to show them his point of view as he sneaks into their homes and workplaces to shoot them dead.

As Sal looks into the case, it seems to reveal a glitch in The Ether itself, and when he thinks the mysterious woman he’s seen is involved – and indeed might be the hired killer they’re looking for – he and his team stage an elaborate scam to try and engage her services and have her come out of the shadows, with him as the bait.

The story itself is a pretty bog-standard murder mystery from there as he makes contact with the woman, falls in love with her and becomes compromised, etc. In fact, it confirms a theory I’ve long believed, that a murder is the default plot device into any story which deals with a vast conspiracy or an astounding new world the protagonist has to discover or deal with.

When it reaches its conclusion it’s not actually very narratively successful. When they discover the identity of the killer it feels like the script just picked any old supporting character who’d already been introduced, not explaining the denouement very clearly either.

But that becomes a minor niggle when you consider other elements – particularly the design. It’s a city of cold, icy concrete and brutalist architecture, and Niccol shoots it that way. There’s a lot of straight-on blocking that puts its subjects at the edge of the frame to highlight their Soviet-style surroundings, and everything/everybody is lit and dressed in cool greys, blues and blacks that makes the whole thing feel dispassionate and disconnected, undoubtedly a comment on what the end of privacy has wrought on the collective human spirit – even the few sex scenes are performed like a boring business transaction at a bank counter.

A particular shout out too is due the designer/s who did the onscreen graphics of the AR world. Completely in white and with a small and unobtrusive but stoic grotesque/gothic sans serif font, it reminded me of how W3ll.E so perfectly captured what felt like the industrial design aesthetic of five or ten years hence.

It’s sleek, cool and sexy, has a (mostly) good story and as usual, Niccol builds in an urgent social fable that doesn’t distract from or shout down the tale being told.

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Have you seen Anon? We’d love to hear what you also thought about it, in the comments.