Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfreid
Watch Anon online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV
Imagine a world with no privacy, where everyone’s data can be accessed without warning by the authorities. To say that Andrew Niccol’s new film, Anon, is topical would be an understatement: the dystopian sci-fi is less set in a near-future that bears an uncanny resemblance to now, and more the kind of story that could take place next Tuesday.
The director is no stranger to impressive, ambitious world-building, and the sheer believability of this alternate reality is what makes Anon work. It’s a society where everyone is connected to a network called the Ether, where everything we see is surrounded by informative pop-ups, and adverts stream out of buildings. Niccol shoots it all with muted colours, rendering the metropolis where our thriller takes place so grounded in its drab dreariness it could be any city in the world.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s equally easy to believe that Clive Owen should be cast as the movie’s hero. An underrated actor with grit and pathos to match his cold grey stare, he’s given the kind of familiar, weary role here that makes minimal use of his talents. He plays Sal, a veteran police detective with a divorce and dead child weighing on his shoulders – not to mention the fact that his job is now a plodding task of connecting digital dots together via readily available video evidence.
Things are shaken up, though, by the arrival of a hacker who begins bumping people off – and then taps into their victim’s video feeds to erase their own presence, leaving eerie footage of someone being stalked by an anonymous, gun-wielding figure. When Anon (Amanda Seyfried) is unmasked from the dark underbelly of the Ether, then, it doesn’t take a genius to work out she’s involved – and Sal leaps at the chance to do things old school, taking on an undercover role as a rich stockbroker, the kind of man who hires her to wipe digital proof of an affair with a sex worker.
Seyfried is sadly given about as much as Owen to play with, her character essentially remaining a cypher throughout. The pair generate some real sparks, though, as they trade blows of uncertainty and secrets. Their exchanges raise points about security and surveillance that are no less pertinent because we’ve heard them before, and that debate about trust and invasion of privacy reaches a nail-biting crescendo when Sal’s vision is hijacked, leaving him unable to tell what’s real and what’s false – from getting into elevator shafts to driving his car, his distorted reality becomes terrifyingly lethal.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t know where to go from there, and a rushed final act fails to build on that horror – or deliver an emotional punch to rival the conclusion of Black Mirror’s similarly themed episode, A Complete History of You. The result is a compelling commentary on our current age aand, at its best, a riveting piece of sci-fi action – but those pixels of promise ultimately fade into a virtual web of generic tropes that feels all too aptly anonymous.
Anon is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.