DIRECTED BY: Tate Taylor
STARRING: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Geena Davis, Common, John Malkovich, Christopher Domig, Joan Chen, Diana Silvers, Jess Weixler, Ioan Gruffudd, Joe Sabalo Jr. and Michael Muller
The film focuses on Ava Faulkner, a deadly assassin whose assigned to travel to Saudi Arabia to assassinate a German general, which doesn’t ago according to plan due bad intel, leading to Ava having to lay low and decides to take the time to revisit her mother and sister that she hasn’t seen in eight years. Meanwhile her handler’s superior, Simon, believes that Ava is a liability and orders a hit on Ava.
Ava is written by Matthew Newton and directed by Tate Taylor. The film focuses on Ava Faulkner, a talented assassin (known in this world as an ‘executive’) who has a habit of getting personal with her targets, pushing them to confess to what act they committed to have her come into their lives to end it. This leads to one of her handler’s trainees, Simon, whose being groomed to misplace her handler, Duke, to believe that Ava has become a liability and after a recent mission is botched, decides to put a hit order on her.
Ava was initially build as an action film, in the promotional material at least, in the lead up to its release this year and having sat down to watch it on Netflix, it serves more as a character-driven drama in which Ava Faulkner, a recovering addict-turned-assassin, is at a moral crisis. Her profession has her kill set targets, but Ava begins to question why and thus begins to quiz them herself in order to find any sort of justification for her to end them. To her handler Duke, not only does this go against their methodical process of assassinating targets, but he fears that getting any kind of answers will lead Ava to relapse. When her latest operation is botched due to a faulty alias, Ava returns to her hometown of Boston to visit her estranged sister and mother, whom she hasn’t seen in eight years due to complicated family issues primarily to do with her recently deceased father.
Oddly over the course of the films one hour and thirty-six minute runtime, it’s Ava interactions with her sister and mother that provide the most interesting scenes in the film. During a scene in which her mother Bobbi is in a hospital bed, recovering from angina, Ava fixes the aerial of the television in the room, much to the amusement of mother Bobbi, sister Judy, and Michael, and while she gets praise from Michael for fixing it, Bobbi simply says, “I guess there was nothing wrong with it.”, highlighting the dysfunction between them. That’s not the only moment of dysfunction however as Judy has a hard time dealing with Ava’s sudden return into their lives, and she has such disdain for her due to leaving her alone to deal with their father’s death and their mothers illness, and Judy makes this known all too well when they first meet up and especially in an uncomfortable dinner sequence between them and Michael. The reason for the uncomfortableness becomes clearer during the course of the film when we learn that there was a romance between Ava and Michael before she left town and unfortunately this sub-plot of a love triangle rekindles and becomes the main focus over the family dynamic sub-plot from the middle-to-final act of the film.
Unfortunately that’s one of the many issues with Ava in that there’s too much going on over the course of a film that’s just over an hour and a half long, that it almost feels like a season of television arcs congested into a feature package. The love triangle focus is just not that interesting and feels melodramatic, especially when we learn that Michael’s gambling has him indebted to Toni, a woman who runs a gambling den and a secret nightclub, which can only be accessed through a disguised entrance….a portable toilet, which we learn that of course there’s history between Toni and Ava too. It’s a shame too, because there’s a particular scene in the middle of the film that’s easily the best in the entire film and unfortunately never lives near those heights again, where Ava and Bobbi have a heart-to-heart at a table, and with the limited screentime that she has, Geena Davis gives a memorable monologue and performance here while Jessica Chastain hangs back and reacts.
Jessica Chastain gives a decent performance with the material she has here as an assassin looking to rediscover herself, while John Malkovich and Colin Farrell appear to have a good time in their roles, particularly when they’re sharing the screen and inevitably go against each other. While the film is more dramatic than action driven, there is a number of action sequences here, after all the main character is an assassin, but unfortunately the action is shot in a Bourne-esque way that makes it all feel rather bland in how it is edited together, between the very-closely shot framed hand-to-hand combats with fast cuts and there’s even a WWE-esque quality to some of the sequences (which I never thought I’d type in a film review ever) in that, particularly in the botched mission in Saudi Arabia in which Ava has to take on a German generals platoon/fireteam in order to make it out alive, there’s some handheld zoom in/out transitions that take place in mid-combat and while it tries to give the film a different flavour to other films in its genre, it just makes it look cheap in comparison. It’s only in the films climatic action sequence that they allow it to breathe and play out with less cuts in the edit, but still resolves it in a rather anti-climatic way.
Even though Ava features a strong ensemble and some elements to make a potentially engaging story, there’s too much focus on melodramatic sub-plots that you don’t care about and the action sequences are unfortunately flat and forgettable.