Director Tate Taylor
Screenplay Matthew Newton
Starring Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, Ioan Gruffudd, Joan Chen, Jess Weixler, Diana Silvers
Ava is the kind of project I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in cinema. Take a great character actress with physical prowess like Chastain, make her a secret agent / hitman and let her loose in the misogynist playground. This film could have been great. I even rented it from Redbox, because despite its trailer, I thought this could be great. Unfortunately, someone let all of the cats out of the bag with that trailer and no amount of verbal acuity could put them back again.
The story starts out promisingly enough. Our protagonist picks up a slimebag and lets him know he’s the next target on her list. She tells him to just assume its over, but before she kills him, she asks why she was sent to finish him off. He tries to talk his way out of it. When it’s clear that he doesn’t know why he is a target, she kills him. All along, she’s being spied on by someone else who hears the whole conversation.
This is not the first time she’s been caught asking her targets for information. This should be enough to have her eliminated. And it really is enough of a plot.
Ava’s handler, Duke (Malkovich) is trying to keep her from the firing line from their boss (Farrell). The spy from the film’s first hit is somewhere in between these two. Why is their best hitman breaking the third wall of the espionage world with questions? What is there to hide?
Instead, we see her go back home and confront demons that she left a decade earlier. Her sister, Jude (Weixler), now is engaged to be married to her ex, played by Common. Any time one sees Common somewhere besides an award show is worthy of mention, but here, he’s just a guy who’s wondering what is going on with his ex. She’s changed so much in these 10 years. Unfortunately, we get this mixed with another subplot about a local gangster (Chen) who is intent on collecting what she is owed.
As much as I hate to say it, the film would have been better without Davis playing Ava’s mother. Or at least they could have made her a former hitman herself. Maybe even Charly Baltimore from A Long Kiss Goodnight.
The rest of this drama really belongs in a second, less interesting movie. We have enough cool stuff to go on, without dredging up why the best in the business got started in the business. Chastain is a good enough actress to hint at the boring stuff without being mired by the whole subplot straight out of a soap opera. If she’d been able to hint more, this film would be a whole bunch better.
As it is, it is fine. The acting sequences range from good to painfully good. I don’t mind when a #metoo actress gets thrown around, so long as she gets to throw the last punch. Apparently, the writer and original director Newton had a problematic history that the press would not let Chastain work out for herself, so we get Taylor to finish what he started. It’s all competent, but it could have been great.
(*** out of *****)