I, Anna Film Review
Charlotte Rampling is one of those rare actresses whose name you recognise but can’t quite place her face. Her career has spanned over four decades and, even though she’s been in some pretty horrendous films (Basic Instinct 2, Babylon A.D), she still holds an air of respectability that only a UK-French actress can. Thankfully, I, Anna brings out the best in her talents. It helps that debut-film director Barnaby Southcombe also happens to be her son.
Based on an American novel of the same name, the setting has been transported from New York to London, with the distinct Barbican building serving as the backdrop for most of the story. Starring alongside Rampling is Gabriel Byrne, and here he gives an equally introverted, yet powerful, performance. Rounding off the cast is the always reliable Eddie Marsan and Hayley Atwell.
Anna (Rampling) is a single, middle-aged woman that is encouraged to attend speed-dating events by her daughter (Hayley Atwell). A particular night ends with the murder of one of the men she hit it off with, George (Ralph Brown). For the most part, the crime is pinned on his son and his drug-dealing acquaintance. But not all is straightforward with the murder, or Anna.
After an accidental meeting, DCI Bernie Reid (Byrne) becomes entranced by her and starts a relationship with her that compromises the investigation, followed up by DI Franks (Marsan), and his own judgement. With flashbacks piecing together the events of the murder, can Anna and Bernie overcome this and their own personal issues to survive the loneliness that is London?
In all honesty, the first act is, politely put, dull. Apart from a humorous introduction into the world of senior speed dating by a brief appearance from Honor Blackman, the story moves at an alarmingly slow pace. Characters are introduced with minimal dialogue and it is all very… uninteresting.
But the film really takes off once Anna and Bernie start interacting. In the first meeting since their brief encounter at the start, it is like a little spark has been lit – not just for their characters but the film itself. Their cautious demeanour with each other is touching, and their isolation against a gloomily-shot London highlights that the big city is not all filled with Notting Hill, happy-go-lucky types.
Once the flashbacks reveal more of the murderous night in question, as well as Anna’s idiosyncrasies with her ghost-like relationship with her daughter and grand-daughter, the empathy felt for her leaves you captivated and engrossed. The conclusion results in a moving embrace from its two leads, and a fitting way to close.
Rampling and Byrne deliver remarkable nuanced performances, their subtle eye movement and hand gestures display deep inhibition and shyness. Unfortunately Marsan and Atwell do not get such opportunity to do much, and the film could have really done with an extra 20 minutes to flesh out these characters.
Even Byrne could’ve had a bit more focus because, although essential to the story, he turns out to be nothing more than a shoulder to cry on. We know he is also a tormented soul but nothing is revealed as to why, other than he is separated from his wife – whereas with Anna, we slowly piece together the reasons behind her actions.
I, Anna is a slow-burning noir thriller that looks at London in a different light and features strong lead performances, a stirring soundtrack and stylish directing. Recommended, but with caution to push through the first half an hour – there’s an emotional tale to be told that makes it worthwhile.