Review by Rich Cline | 2/5

dir Tate Taylor
scr Matthew Newton
prd Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael, Nicolas Chartier, Dominic Rustam
with Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Colin Farrell, Common, Geena Davis, Jess Weixler, Diana Silvers, Joan Chen, Ioan Gruffudd, Efka Kvaraciejus, Christopher J Domig, Michel Muller
release UK 27.Aug.20,
US 25.Sep.20
20/US 1h36

malkovich farrell common

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A cheesy TV series-style title sequence sets the tone for this action thriller about a female assassin facing up to some personal issues. Director Tate Taylor can't resist a nonstop barrage of cliches as the story slickly flits through a series of glamorous international locations. Thankfully, the film also reunites him with Jessica Chastain, who gives the title character enough soul to keep the audience engaged.
Working for a secret organisation, Ava (Chastain) travels the world killing high-profile targets without knowing why. And she begins asking questions. When a job goes awry, Ava's handler Duke (Malkovich) tells her to lie low, so she heads to Boston to reconnect with her trouble-stirring mother Bobbi (Davis), who's recovering from a heart attack, as well as her her angry sister Judy (Weixler), whose boyfriend Michael (Common) has a past with Ava and needs her help. But Ava is still too nosey for top boss Simon (Farrell), and he decides to silence her for good.
It feels convenient that Ava's history of drugs and alcohol abuse continues to haunt her, as she pours expository dialog into recovery-group confessionals and awkward family dinners. Most other encounters devolve quickly into scrappily choreographed fistfights, often accompanied by Bear McCreary's too-insistent score. This kind of bluntly unambitious writing and directing also hones in on melodrama that's vaguely ridiculous, softening most of the film's potential sharp edges. But the familiarity makes it watchable.

All of this creates a challenge for the actors to ground their characters, but Chastain manages a tricky balancing act, adding feisty resilience in a woman who has overcome too much to give up now. Colourful side characters offer plenty of oomph, most notably the terrific Davis, who shamelessly steals her scenes. Malkovich and Farrell provide plenty of spark themselves, and in an extended cameo Chen delivers her own kick as Ava's mentor. By contrast, Common and Weixler are saddled with one-note roles that give them little to do.

There's plenty of potential here, but Newton's simplistic script pieces together the plot by numbers, and Tate never puts the brutality into meaningful context. There are enough people and settings to keep things interesting, even if where it's headed is never in question. So Ava's temptation to chug alcohol feels like a pointless tease when more compelling things remain unexplored in the relationships between these characters. And the ending only reinforces the sense that this seems like the pilot for a television series, rather than a movie franchise.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Aug.20

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