Directed by Andrew Niccol.
Starring Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Ferore, Mark O’Brien, Sonya Walger and Iddo Goldberg.
In the near future, cop Sal (Clive Owen) is working on a series of unsolved murders – a rarity because this is a world where there’s no privacy or anonymity and crime is almost non-existent. But he discovers a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who’s subverted the system: she has no identity or records and she seems to be connected to the murders ….
You couldn’t make it up. At a special screening of Anon, director Andrew Niccol ironically thanked the film’s “sponsors”, Cambridge Analytica. Two days later the company announced it was closing. His film was about a fortnight away from launching and it was infinitely more topical than he could ever have imagined when he started writing the script, let alone when it was in production.
His film about the difference between privacy and secrecy is set in the near future in what looks like New York, but the only familiar building on the skyline is the Chrysler Tower, so who knows. Clive Owen’s cop Sal is investigating a chain of murders, something of a novelty in a society where anonymity and privacy are strictly forbidden. Everybody’s memories, down to the tiniest detail, as well as all their personal information, is recorded and can be checked instantly. The access is right in front of his eyes. So crime hardly ever happens but, walking along the street, he discovers a young woman (Seyfried) who has no identity, no history and no records. Tracking her down isn’t easy, but it becomes increasingly crucial when he realises she could be connected to the killings.
The Girl, as she’s known, is a sophisticated hacker who can go into anybody’s files with ease, delete content, move it around and even reverse it so that she’s looking at the world through that person’s eyes. Which makes her the prime suspect for the murders. And she’s not just critical to the film’s plot, she’s also the bearer of its message: she hasn’t become anonymous because she has secrets, she just doesn’t have anything she wants the outside world – well, the authorities, anyway – to know. Despite the iron grip of the police and politicians, the system isn’t infallible: ruthlessly efficient, yes, perfect, no. So she’s not the only hacker and, judging from her apartment, she earns a pretty good living from it.
Topicality aside, it’s actually an interesting premise and one with potential for an intriguing thriller. The fact that some of it has actually come true gives it some additional discomfort and, as a vision of the future, it’s grey, cold and soulless. As it should be. Seyfried’s character is so icy, so detached, that there’s always the lurking suspicion that she may not be human in the first place. The screen is frequently populated by other people’s files, lots of white lines and dots brightly contrasting with the murky colour palette, and it’s remarkable how quickly the eyes become adjusted to it, despite its complexities.
But this is an idea that feels stretched to the limit and beyond. There are several instances where the film could have ended perfectly well, but was determined to carry on and the bottom line is that there isn’t enough here to make a full length feature. It’s difficult to engage with the characters as well, so there’s no genuine sense of involvement. Even the attempt to give Owen’s cop a back story – all to do with the death of his son – falls flat and does nothing to make him more sympathetic or interesting. Despite its promise and topicality, Anon ends up being disappointingly flat and as grey as its surroundings. As the conclusion eventually arrives, it all descends into predictability. It all adds up to a frustratingly wasted opportunity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.