For those who know me, there isn’t a bigger thrill for me than the excitement that comes from knowing a new film featuring Jessica Chastain is out. Yes, I am a fan, perhaps even a little smitten but in this writer’s eyes she’s magnificent and I will fight anyone that says otherwise. However, and I would be the first to admit, her recent output hasn’t stuck chords despite some good performances. Molly’s Game and Miss Sloane were brilliant but barely anyone saw them, IT: Chapter Two didn’t live up to the first; and Dark Phoenix rose with a thud.
She’s been busy trying to rectify this, producing a few of her upcoming films including Ava, which arrives on UK streaming platforms without much fanfare this weekend. But there is very good reason for that: this generic, lazy thriller is a proper dud. Chastain plays the title role, flexing her action muscles as a Black Ops assassin, one of the best in the business. She’s a bit of a loose cannon (all the best ones are, aren’t they?) but she’s efficient and supremely effective. Soon enough, however, she finds herself battling against the agency she works for when a job goes awry (don’t they always?) with only her mentor Duke (John Malkovich) to protect her from the agency big boss Simon (Colin Farrell, who you’ll recognise easier than in the new The Batman trailer).
As you can see from the little synopsis of the film, we have been here a million times before with a million different characters that are a slight detour from the previous ones but all with the same hallmarks that, hopefully make for some distracting thrills and spills. Directed by Tate Taylor (The Girl On The Train), Ava feels tired and uninspired from the outset, seemingly happy enough to follow convention without too much detouring in the hope that it will be entertaining enough to get by. It isn’t. It’s sloppy, vacuous, slapdash and, frankly, a bit embarrassing given the riches at its disposal.
Wasting Messrs Malkovich and Farrell is one thing – presumably the cheques were quite handsome but they do try their best – but to do the same to Chastain is probably listed in Revelations. OK, maybe this fanboy is over-stating that and you have to wonder what appealed to her with Ava, aside from getting her hands dirty. The character is a vacuum of personality, we never root for her, we never sense any real danger and, for all the pathos that should come from her backstory and family trouble sub-plot (add Geena Davis as her Mum to the wasted pile) they are too thin to make any real impact. She, too, tries harder than anyone to make it work but swimming against the tide is a hard task.
There’s plenty of other films of this ilk on streaming platforms right now that are made much less but do the fundamentals better, but Ava feels cursed from the moment it starts and doesn’t ever get going. As film fans, the joy that comes knowing you’re seeing such talents on-screen together is a rush unlike many others, but seeing them squandered and looking lost throughout is some kind of heartbreak.
Action, Crime | USA, 2020 | 15 | 24th August 2020 | Digital HD (Amazon, Rakuten) | Dir.Tate Taylor | Jessica Chaistain, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Geena Davis, Ioan Gruffudd, Common, Joan Chen