Anon review: An exercise in computer search engine sleuthing

Too many digital bells and whistles get in the way of an otherwise conventional detective story

Geoffrey Macnab
Wednesday 09 May 2018 09:44
Comments
Clive Owen is enjoyably sardonic and laidback as the detective hero. Amanda Seyfried is suitably enigmatic as the mysterious object not just of Sal’s investigations but increasingly of his desire as well
Clive Owen is enjoyably sardonic and laidback as the detective hero. Amanda Seyfried is suitably enigmatic as the mysterious object not just of Sal’s investigations but increasingly of his desire as well

Dir Andrew Niccol, 100 mins, starring: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger, Mark O’Brien, Joe Pingue

Anon is a detective mystery set in a futuristic world of data hacking and identity theft. The lines between human beings and computers have become very blurred. Police work involves accessing the chips in suspects’ brains and seeing if the images contained there conform to the stories the suspects tell or alibis they try to provide.

A serial killer is on the loose. He or she has the ability to “hijack” the “mind’s eye” of the victims and to make their deaths appear like suicides. These hapless victims will shoot themselves or jump out of windows or climb into non-existent lifts, all because their consciousness has been invaded by an outside force.

We may be deep in the future but Clive Owen’s character, police investigator Sal Frieland, is every bit as crumpled and world-weary as any private eye in a Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler story. He is divorced, drinks too much and is still haunted by the death of his child.

Director Andrew Niccol does a fair job of re-inventing old film noir conventions for a new cyber world. Visually, though, the film is very distracting. Rather than simply show the action, the filmmakers fill the screen with distracting holograms, boxes of written text and diagrams.

The conceit here is that we are in a word without privacy. In exchange for all the information they could ever need at their fingertips, citizens have had to sacrifice the right to keep their lives away from the prying of others. Everything is recorded. Everything is exposed. The ability to forget or be forgotten has all but been lost.

Amanda Seyfried is the femme fatale who becomes prime suspect for the killings. She has the ability to help clients clean away damaging moments from their memory files.

This mysterious hacker has somehow vanished from all the official records herself. It is hard even to prove that she exists. It appears that she is having sex with her clients and then killing them. Sal decides that the best way to catch her is to pretend he wants to hire her.

Clive Owen is enjoyably sardonic and laidback as the detective hero. Seyfried is suitably enigmatic as the mysterious object not just of Sal’s investigations but increasingly of his desire as well, Niccoll tries to create a sense of mystery and suspense but the film is continually undermined by its use of cyber language.

In its weaker moments, Anon feels less like a traditional detective story than an exercise in computer search engine sleuthing. Too many digital bells and whistles get in the way of an otherwise conventional detective story.

Anon hits UK cinemas 11 May.

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