Inverse Recommends

Luc Besson’s Underrated Spy Thriller Just Hit Netflix

Dress to impress (the CIA).

Inverse Recommends

Most spy movies thrive on formula. When you watch a James Bond movie, you know what you’re going to get: a megalomaniacal villain, lush foreign settings, plenty of cool stunts and fights. Veering away from this formula is a risk that doesn’t always pay off. One 2019 movie took that risk and was lambasted by critics, but it’s since found an audience on Netflix. It’s rocketed up the platform’s Top 10, but is it worth your time? Yes, for reasons hiding in the plot.

Anna, directed by The Fifth Element’s Luc Besson, begins with a fairy tale. Anna (Sasha Luss), a young girl selling matryoshka dolls in a bleak Moscow market, gets discovered by a modeling agency and suddenly rockets to fame in Paris. There, she rubs elbows with powerful men, and her true purpose is revealed: she’s a KGB sleeper agent who easily dispatches her targets.

It’s then the plot reveals its tricks. After Anna’s first hit, we flash back years earlier when she was just a small-town girl trapped in a toxic relationship. The entire movie features constant flashbacks and flashforwards, with few hints to viewers about where we are in the timeline. There are even, for lack of a better word, flash-sideways scenes where we see what really happened during a key fight.

While Anna is doing well on streaming, it’s not just a movie you throw on in the background while you do laundry. Its heroine’s shifting goals and loyalties grab your attention. And there’s no clear villain here; Anna’s only motivation is the promise of a life outside of espionage altogether, one where she doesn’t constantly have to look over her shoulder.

Cillian Murphy plays an alluring CIA agent who tempts Anna into a new life.


Anna has to decide who’s more likely to offer her that freedom: the KGB, where she’s looked after by the no-nonsense Olga (Helen Mirren), or the CIA, whose Agent Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy) offers her a life in Hawaii. The viewer doesn’t know what she chooses until the last second, which keeps tensions high.

All this twisting and turning action is sleekly stylized, and the high-fashion setting of Anna’s modeling life makes even the blandest exposition scene feel like the coolest party you’ve ever been invited to. The success of shows like Mr. and Mrs. Smith proves that unconventional spy stories are having a moment now, and Anna is one of the best takes on the genre out there. It keeps all the best elements of spy movies, but shuffles them into a non-linear story that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Anna is streaming on Netflix.

Related Tags