I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
The new thriller Ava asks us to buy Jessica Chastain (It Chapter 2) as an international assassin, an alcoholic battling her demons, and an estranged daughter trying to reconnect with her family.
Because Jessica Chastain is such a great actress, it’s not difficult to believe her in any of those parts.
But are we to believe that the carpets match the drapes?
Maybe in a different movie. Maybe in a good movie, or at least in a better one than Ava. Or at least that’s what one hopes before you take your life into your hands and see Ava or Tenet or that Russell Crowe road rage movie in theaters. There was a time, way back in February when the only thing to be afraid of in theaters besides the white viscous substance on the floor that isn’t butter “flavoring” was getting the auditorium shot up by some disgruntled white person.
Life was simpler then.
Any of those other releases aren’t really worth the risk. You’d really be p*ssed if you got sick seeing something like New Mutants.
Ava opens with a blonde haired driver (she looks like our star Jessica Chastain but it can’t be because she has blonde hair) picking up a VIP at a French airport. She speaks French fluently but our D-bag in the back Peter (Iaon Gruffud) discerns she’s from the states.
He’s right. She says her name is Brandy. And she wants to get into the backseat and see if they can get to know each other better. Peter says yes.
Peter thinks he’s getting lucky. Brandy asks what he does for a living. Peter is a little cagey about answering. He’s a little less cagey when Brandy pulls a gun on him. She wants to know if he knows why he has to die.
Peter has soiled his shorts too much to answer such an existential question. Maybe if Brandy would just put the gun down—
Peter is dead because “Brandy” just shot him.
Brandy takes off her wig and now we can see Jessica Chastain’s’ red hair as she escapes, calling in confirmation of her kill. Within moments we will see the opening credits and know her name is…
The name of the movie.
With the text-position heavy opening credits we learn that Ava was an alcoholic, and because of a tragic error in judgement, made her way into the army. We also learn that she’s really good at hurting people. She’s taken as a protégé by Duke (John Malkovich, also sporting long red hair) to kill people for money instead of just killing people on the road by being drunk all the time.
After killing Peter Ava gets assigned another job. That one doesn’t go as well as planned and Ava is forced to take some time off.
She goes back home to Boston and sees her sister Judi (Jess Wexler) and OCD mom Bobbi (Geena Davis). It’s been 8 years since Ava’s been home and she didn’t leave on the best terms. Also, Ava’s ex-boyfriend Michael (Common) is now dating Judi. Awkward.
Maybe it would be less stressful if Ava just killed more people. Maybe not for money when she’s on hiatus, but for fun. It’s probably less traumatic than seeing her family.
Meanwhile, Duke wants reassurances from management that Ava is not going to be “canceled” (I put canceled in quotation marks because it’s assassin code for “killed”, since in these types of movies you can’t just say the words “killed”.) because her performance has been spotty.
Her last 3 victims have only given her 4 star reviews and in order to maintain Contract Killer Gold Status the victim ratings have to average at least a 4.5.
Duke’s other former protégé now in management Simon (Colin Farrell) assures Duke that Ava will not be touched.
Duke and Simon both know that isn’t true.
As soon as Duke leaves Simon practically sends out a John Wick-ian APB for Ava to be killed.
Now Ava has to deal with problematic family issues as well as people trying to kill her.
What’s a ginger assassin to do?
What Works With Ava
- Jessica Chastain- Not really a surprise as she’s great in everything even if the movie is subpar. Chastain does all the heavy lifting, and she almost carries Ava into a being a decent movie, but she can’t do it all by herself. You know she can do the dramatic stuff in her sleep, but she’s equally convincing as an assassin. You can tell it’s mostly her during the violent action scenes and not covered up in a thousand post-production cuts (See Liam Neeson in the Taken movies). You believe every moment of Chastain’s performance, but you just don’t believe every moment of the movie.
What Doesn’t Work With Ava
- Director “Little Man” Tate Taylor (The Help, The Girl on the Train, Ma) and writer Matthew Newton seems to be making two films (an action movie as well as a family drama) at once and hoping it will meet somewhere in the middle with some sense of cohesion. For most of Ava’s running time, it doesn’t. You’re whipsawed between tonal shifts, most of which are not successful. Pick a f*cking lane as you’d be better off watching any random episode of Killing Eve.
- A plot thread involving Michael’s gambling feels forced and out of left field. There’s no logical reason for this character’s action except to fulfill a function of plot. After the credits roll, way too many characters appear just to fulfill a function of plot. Yes, it goes down easier when you have actors like John Malkovich and Geena Davis, but it’s obvious the only really developed character was Ava.
Only the biggest Jessica Chastain fans will enjoy this as Ava spins its wheels in no real direction and with no real sense of satisfaction for the audience. Ava doesn’t just kill people, Ava (the movie) kills any hope of suspense. Skip unless you’re addicted to palindromes.