Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Producer: Andrew Niccol, Oliver Simon, Daniel Baur, Oda Schaefer
Stars: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Mark O’Brien, Sonya Walger, Joe Pingue, Iddo Goldberg
In the near future, a detective searches for a mysterious woman capable of altering anyone’s recorded memories.
Implications imagined by the near future of Andrew Niccol’s “Anon” don’t build quite the same worrisome watchdog world as the speculative fiction of George Orwell or Philip K. Dick. Nevertheless, the film’s centerpiece concept, that the absence of anonymity effectively eliminates crime, envisions a predictive panopticon with morally disconcerting consequences.
Anyone in “Anon” can, with permission if someone allows it or without permission if you’re the police, intangibly tap into another person’s mind’s eye and watch mental memories. Not only are everyone’s lives essentially reduced to a recorded archive of 24/7 surveillance, but a Terminator-like UI enables detailed identification of every person, place, and thing that can be seen in either the present or the past.
Technology like this keeps the average populace honest while making detective Sal Frieland’s job unfairly easy. Deducing who stole a necklace or who pulled a trigger is as simple as staring straight ahead and mentally hitting rewind. Practically bored, Sal thinks it might be good fortune rather than bad luck when a stone cold whodunit finally comes his way.
Consultants claim it shouldn’t be possible, yet someone has been hacking into heads and feeding false information. Hijacking eyesight. Rewriting data. Deleting entire memories. Victims are now inexplicably turning up dead without any discernible reason why. After briefly watching a woman pass by without registering digital data, Sal wonders if this mystery girl might be involved. Suspicions solidify soon after when the unidentified woman manages the impossible once again by hacking Sal’s eye and erasing the evidence that he ever saw her at all.
Reading back on the paragraphs above, I briefly forget how breathtakingly beige “Anon” actually is, as its plot description packs plenty of promise as both insight and entertainment. Alas, “Anon” doesn’t ascend either peak, puttering instead around the periphery of new age noir as well as social philosophy to be a dreary gumshoe drama whose gears groan for energetic oil to lube it with a semblance of personality.
“Anon” takes place in a New York that looks more like London lost in oppressively overcast gloom. Earth tones drain exteriors and buildings until they are drenched in desaturated grey colors. Costumes clad men exclusively in black or navy blue suits. Aside from a glass of cabernet or bleeding head, there is hardly a splash of color to be spied anywhere.
It’s legitimately challenging to accept a progressive premise when cold concrete environments are so plainly imagined as depressingly regressive. Were astounding advancements in cerebral technology so creatively taxing that fashion designers and engineers simply threw up their hands in surrender?
Futuristic fiction certainly has no obligation to be as viscerally vibrant as say Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (review here) or Duncan Jones’ “Mute” (review here). But “Anon” encases its monotone mystery in a drab setting whose dourness only amplifies the script’s dullness.
“Anon” would function more fully as immersive fiction if it were a book, where readers erect their own imagery and ideas aren’t restricted by unremarkable sights and sounds. In its cinematic incarnation, “Anon” just doesn’t lend itself to visually attractive intrigue. Detectives sit and stare while memory replays occupy unseen eyes. Irrelevant words animate as typed text accompanying onscreen appearances from people and locations. Whatever desire someone in “Anon” may have to know the architectural history of a Corinthian column, the audience has no need to know at all.
White fonts and square shapes are only tools misapplied to chisel out a milquetoast movie. Substance matches the style’s flatness by creating characters as colorless as their world. Clive Owen sees his usual stature uncharacteristically shaped into the slumped shoulders of a pathetic Willie Loman silhouette, often boringly brooding in vain for something worthwhile to chew on. Vacantly brief scenes of strife with an ex-wife over their son’s tragic death constitute the sum total of Sal’s breadcrumb backstory. Nothing constituting a personal moment for anyone involved registers so much as a scribble on the seismic graph of emotional development, including Amanda Seyfried’s ‘Girl,’ another frustratingly nondescript entity with no known motivation to relate to.
In its infancy as an outline, “Anon” undoubtedly impressed as a scarily timely slice of deeply intellectualized sci-fi. Fleshed further, “Anon” grew lesser instead of greater, constricting itself with player piano acting, pedestrian production design, and stale scripting prioritizing cursory formula. This concept and these actors shouldn’t combine for a project this bland, yet “Anon” lives up to its title by being an indistinguishably unnoticeable film.
Review Score: 45