Jorge Dorado knows a thing or two about memory and time. The Spanish director worked with the legendary Pedro Almodóvar on such films as “Talk To Her” in 2002 and “Bad Education” in 2004, and now on his own addresses the power of the mind in his feature debut with the sensual thriller Anna.
The basic premise of Anna is one that may cause die-hard Christopher Nolan fans to tremble and possibly curse out loud. A down and out “memory detective” is haunted by the death of his wife, but can save his career by venturing into the mind of another individual. Yes, that sounds remarkably like “Inception,” however, Dorado smartly chooses to focus his suspense more on real-life personal relationships rather than pounding away at dreams and memories.
Mark Strong plays John, the likable mind detective, and is complimented by the equally pleasing Taissa Farmiga in her first starring role. Johns needs a few bucks to save his beach house, and approaches the big boss of Mindscape (Brian Cox) for an opportunity to get back into the memory game. A Senator — and totally unnecessary character — is wailing on the television airwaves about memory detection, and John stumbles upon the perfect opportunity to get his career back on track.
Dorado could have flip-flopped the opening scenes by introducing Taissa Farmiga, literally and figuratively, and then delving into the backstory of detective John. The “one more mind job” cliché not only reminds of Nolan’s handiwork, but the opening scenes also have a straight-to-DVD quality that may bore young cinephiles. However, the formidable combination of Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga prove to be a joy to watch early on, and the slick point-counterpoint direction of Dorado moves the film along at a steady pace.
Farmiga, 21 years the junior of sister and actor Vera Farmiga, excels by transcending the role of the intellectual, troubled rich kid. She stands her ground in the first scene with the veteran actor Strong, and genuinely feels like a misunderstood social outcast. In other words, Anna understands her mental capabilities, but also realizes how easily she could be taken advantage of. Farmiga keeps the character grounded and sympathetic, while teasing at what cards may be up her sleeve. A couple long monologues reek of memory citation, but Farmiga’s nonverbal skills help ease this pain.
Mark Strong is the actor that you’ve seen in dozens of films, but probably can’t identify by name. Although some of Detective Johns’s early dialogue is silly, along with the whispered lines “It’s not your fault,” the fragility of the character conveys that all may not be right upstairs. The character is at the proverbial crossroads, and remains lost in thought, even as the young Anna makes passes at him and another woman playfully seduces him. John is a practical man; he plays by the rules and knows the importance of his job.
Despite its rough start, Anna surprisingly gets better with time, albeit with a few bumps along the road. The writers introduce memorable supporting players, such as jailbird photography teacher (Alberto Ammann), and a classmate of Anna with both emotional and physical scars (Antonia Clarke). While Dorado borrows heavily from his contemporaries, the cat and mouse antics of the leads keep one guessing throughout and the Lolita-like quality of Taissa Farmiga hints at what is to come.
It’s difficult to project Anna is being anything other than a fun weekend thriller, but as time passes it will receive plenty of attention as one of Taissa Farmiga’s early roles.