Ava movie review: Jessica Chastain's smooth-as-butter action cannot prop up an exhaustingly vapid film
Do you wonder whether watching a covert chase sequence at 1.5x speed shoots up the thrill? It does not.
castJessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Colin Farrell, Jess Weixler, Common, Geena Davis
In a scene somewhere halfway down Ava, an awkward dinner table conversation gets increasingly muffled as Jessica Chastain stoically snacks on berries with such disinterest that she would put a mannequin to shame. It is ironic that I felt pretty much like Chastain's character while trying to get through her latest film.
It is a miracle how a film with so much (literal) action can be this lifeless.
Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up), Ava touches upon everything — drinking and drug addiction, gambling, paid assassins, dysfunctional families, dead foster father figures, revenge— yet, the sum of the parts add up to convey absolutely nothing. An opening montage sequence introduces us to Ava (Chastain), an exceptionally talented teenager whose drinking and drug addiction leads her awry until she joins the army to overcome it. She later becomes part of a clandestine "organisation" that "eliminates" influential white collars.
The movie skedaddles back to the present, where we witness Ava deceiving and executing a British business professional. But here is the problem — Ava's conscience keeps creeping up at unexpected junctures where she is compelled to ask her victims what bad things they did to deserve such a fate, before killing them. Her colleague Simon (Colin Farrell) is not exactly thrilled with her emotions taking over, and hence decides to “close” her as well. But Daddy Duke (John Malkovich), a mentor figure to both Ava and Simon, is convinced Ava is too important an asset to be disposed off. And thus, he keeps repeating that Simon should divert his attention to other matters. What other matters, you may ask. No, the audience is as much in the dark about what this black op organisation is, why indeed these poor blokes are eliminated, who funds these operations, and the ramifications of their actions, as Ava is.
While the disengagement may be a way of life for Ava, it is sincerely not for this dear audience, who scampered to look for meaning behind this glossy, perfunctory mess.
Despite much of its runtime dedicated to Ava’s dysfunctional family life, the sketchy subplot does little to make you care about her and her problems. She left her family eight years back, when her father accused her of lying about his extramarital affair to her mother. Devastated that her mother believed her husband over Ava, and angry enough at the pater to kill him, she decides it is best to run away and deal with her angst on her own. In the process, she also abandons her fiancé Michael (Common) without any explanation. After a botched-up assassination job in Riyadh, Ava suddenly feels she should reconnect with her family because… well… I’m not sure. She turns up at her sister Judy’s (Jess Weixler) gig, who is understandably furious with her for going off the radar for almost a decade. Their mother (Geena Davis), hospitalised, asks Ava to reconnect with Judy and Michael (who is now Judy’s fiancé — fodder for umpteen drama, used to little effect). This leads to the dinner mentioned right at the beginning, some angry jibes at one another, and storming off. But does this extended Fleabag-esque dinner episode do anything to offer a peek into Ava’s conundrum? Or her family’s?
Thrown into the mix are a Southeast Asian gambling den owner Toni (because making a woman the central figure in a film is license enough to perpetuate other stereotypes; and yes, this is sarcasm.), and a daughter looking for validation from her father who believes the field is no place for women.
Truth be told, I really wanted to love the movie — there is something innately satisfying about watching women kicking some serious ass. In all honesty, the action sequences are slick, even rouse a sense of suspense (well, at times it does. At others, you are merely staring at the screen wondering whether watching a covert chase sequence at 1.5x speed shoots up the thrill. It does not.). There is one scene where Ava is followed by an assassin in the dead of the night leading up to a hand-to-hand combat sequence — it gave this writer a rather extended episode of gooseflesh.
But everything about Ava is so cliché-ridden and vapid that even Chastain’s pitch-perfect acting skills and smooth-as-Amul-butter stunts cannot buttress the movie.
Ava is streaming on Netflix.
(All images from YouTube)
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