It’s always interesting to determine the exact moment you’re in the presence of a bad movie. Sometimes it takes several days, after you’ve digested it and concluded that it doesn’t work. Those films at least succeeded in catching you for the ride and gave you a good enough time to make you overlook their problems. However, the very worst movies tend to include massive red flags from the get-go. Andrew Niccol’s Anon is one of those. It opens with a quote in text, something that in this case, insults the audience’s intelligence by spoon-feeding the story’s theme, i.e., “surveillance is scary”. Just like that, you become aware of the po-faced silliness that’s about to unveil.
Anon takes place in a world where every human is basically a walking camera with a Wikipedia plug-in that makes Law Enforcement’s investigation duties easier. But things get messy when a hacker commits a series of crimes where their digital footprint is erased from all the databases. There are two major problems in the this premise’s execution. First, it assumes that unsolved murder is inherently interesting. As a result, there’s no effort to establish stakes and a reason why the crimes in question are important beyond “people dying is a bad thing”. Second, it’s the type of movie where hacking is essentially a magic superpower. There are no limits and clear rules to what can be done with technology, an aspect the movie tries to use to make us buy its nonsense; for instance, using computers to create hallucinations and wiping out human memory.
In entries like Gattaca, Lord of War and Good Kill, Andrew Niccol displayed a knack for using our relationship with science and technology as a canvas for carefully layered character studies about alienated men that want to advance in society, become a better version of themselves and cope with the limits the status quo throws at them. In Anon, it’s exactly the opposite, and it’s not for the better. The characters are in the service of a glorified CSI episode where most of the information you need to know is about the tedious minutiae of the murders and conveyed via mind-numbing exposition and techno-babble.
The story takes place in a New York that could basically pass for any “generic movie city”. There’s no sense of place or atmosphere, and that kills any attempt to feel immersed in that universe. It’s a city with almost no people and movement, and therefore, no soul. The cinematography goes for camera angles that aim to make you feel like you’re invading the characters’ personal space (a choice that makes sense considering the subject matter), but ironically enough, keeps you at arm’s length from them. This is most notable in the flatly shot sex scenes and the unimaginatively choreographed chases. Even the “intense” beats lack urgency and menace. The lethargic soundtrack, seemingly designed to put people to sleep, only ends up highlighting the banality on display (surprising coming from the usually effective Christophe Becke).
The great Clive Owen is stuck playing a rather one-note obsessed cop stereotype. Regular drinking and smoking, “devil may care” attitude, moderately sad backstory; the works. He’s also introduced as an apathetic jerk that cares about nothing and no one, making him impossible to sympathize with. The lethal combination of a thin script (which includes lines like “Who could hack a human being?”) and Niccol’s detached direction result in Owen looking like he just wants to take his paycheck and get out of there as soon as possible. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare any better. Amanda Seyfried, who plays a human MacGuffin, comes off as robotic and doesn’t generate any spark or tension with Owen. Maybe Niccol was trying to convey a world where humans have lost all their capacity to emote.
If Anon could be synthesized with one scene, it would be one where Amanda Seyfried’s character tells Clive Owen’s that she doesn’t want him to know anything about her. It feels like the movie is breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience that it’s not interested in getting to flesh out and play with these characters, and that all the time spent with them was just not worth it. There’s some frustrating poetry in a movie about the erasure of information turning out so utterly disposable and pointless.