Key to achieving anonymity is the ability to appear so bland that the eyes of the world simply don’t notice you. Andrew Niccol’s new film, though well executed. is rather too successful in that regard.
Perhaps that’s unfair; it probably is. For all the faults in the plot, Anon plays out within a genuinely enticing setting, a near-future modernity in which privacy is a thing of the past. Forget social media and face recognition, who needs them when everyone on the planet has been loaded with a biosyn implant – ‘the Mind’s Eye’ – that allows you to constantly access your memories and a database of boundless information?
Walk down the street and passers by are accompanied by Wikipedia entries, foreign languages have subtitles and background music is identified for later listening. Given that Uber now offer bios of their drivers, Google can translate through an iPhone camera and a dozen apps exist to capture song titles, this is a worryingly plausible future.
Similarly in the film’s favour is the cinematographic landscaping by Amir Mokri and sonorous throbbing of Christophe Beck. Conforming to a film noir aesthetic, the colour here has been desaturated to within an inch of its life, yet is as crisply investable as it is utterly bleak. Paired with monotonous building blocks and slow pacing, the plate does only to heighten the tonal dystopia at work here. All that is missing from the screen is Peter Lorre’s billowing cloud of thick smoke and this could be 1941.
Clive Owen does manage to fit in a quick, courtesy puff as law enforcement agent Sal Frieland but, for the most part, he’s too busy hallucinating. The cautionary backbone on Anon is the familiar concept that technology is ripe territory for hackers and, indeed, the delivery of ‘fake news’. The troubled Sal is soon drawn into a whodunnit – a la Christie – involving three murders but no murderers. There’s more than a hint of Spielberg’s Minority Report about this one.
If Niccol’s world succeeds in unsettling, then, it is the road he has chosen to navigate through it that proves disappointing. Nothing is especially original or compelling in his plot, which largely revolves around middle-aged white men sitting at a desk and spying on lesbians being murdered. Amanda Siegfried, the only substantial woman in the film, does reasonably well with a thinly written femme fatal, whilst Owen is solidly ambitious as her James Stewart stalker. Both parts are terribly by the book, with the revelation that Sal is still mourning the loss of his dead child seemingly asking for eyes to roll.
A promising opening and admirable conclusion sandwich Anon but it’s a pretty tasteless meal.