Luc Besson’s Most Underrated Thriller Should Enjoy a Second Life

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When do you think of when you imagine a spy movie? A suave British man wooing women as he sips on martinis? Tom Cruise attempting increasingly outrageous stunts? Men in overcoats exchanging secret packages at park benches? Regardless of how you envision the genre, odds are a man is at the center of the action, though maybe he’ll encounter a femme fatale who ties into the plot.

But five years ago, one movie explored the possibility of the femme fatale becoming the protagonist of her own story as she navigated twisted loyalties, took on bad guys, and outsmarted everyone in a thriller expertly crafted by an iconic action filmmaker.

Anna, directed by The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita’s Luc Besson, follows Anna (Sasha Luss) as she’s discovered in a rural market and instantly catapulted to fame as a supermodel, in a classic rags-to-riches story. But the rug is soon pulled out from under us; Anna isn’t just a down-on-her-luck girl from the tundra who gets a good break, but a deadly assassin and sleeper agent whose rise to fame was engineered by the KGB.

As Anna advances as both a model and a spy, she has to balance her very different jobs as she tries to secure the freedom she’s always wanted. Besson, who also wrote the script, bounces freely between timeframes and perspectives, making the viewer question the true intention of these spies as much as the characters do.

Anna’s secret weapon is Cillian Murphy and his American accent as CIA agent Leonard Miller, who makes a deal with Anna only to find himself at the center of something much bigger. The details are best discovered by viewers going in blind, but like any good spy pairing, Murphy has impressive chemistry with Luss.

Cillian Murphy plays Anna’s Bond girl, a suave CIA agent who makes an offer that’s hard to pass up.


It all builds to a twisty finale that shows the same big scene repeated from a different point of view, revealing that rather than a typical story of spy agency versus spy agency, this is Anna against the world. It’s a completely original spy story, which is an increasingly hard sell in the era of blockbuster franchises. As a story, though, this works in its favor: audiences have no preconceived notions of who Anna is, which is just how spy stories should be. The main character should be a wild card, keeping the viewer on edge and echoing the paranoia of the genre itself.

Anna flopped in 2019 but has recently found an audience on Netflix. It’s a delightful spy story that takes big swings, and you could do worse than surrender yourself to its labyrinthine logic.

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