Netflix UK film review: Ava (2020)
Mark Harrison | On 30, Aug 2020
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Geena Davis, Common, Colin Farrell
Watch Ava (2020) online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Not to be confused with the 2017 Iranian drama that recently hit streaming services, Ava is a textbook assassin thriller that opens with Jessica Chastain’s eponymous assassin posing as a driver to a French businessman (Ioan Gruffudd). She reveals she’s there to kill him, but wants to know what he did to deserve it first. This sequence sets the tone for a reconstructed actioner with more introspective priorities.
After a later job goes wrong due to bad intel, fellow assassin Simon (Colin Farrell) feels she’s become a liability that needs to be corrected. Instead, her handler Duke (John Malkovich) decides to give her some time off to be with her family in Boston. As a lethally skilled ex-army veteran and recovering addict, she isn’t especially well equipped to reconcile with her estranged mother (Geena Davis) or make pleasantries with her sister (Jess Weixler) and her ex-fiancée (Common), who have since got together.
As the first film released from Chastain’s female-led production company Freckle Films, this is a strong showing of the star’s considerable talent after a couple of recent forays into big-budget fare (Dark Phoenix and IT: Chapter Two). She’s as magnetic as ever in the lead role, resuming a string of flawed female protagonists in films such as Miss Sloane and Molly’s Game without repeating herself – she’s as good as picking her roles as she is playing them and, despite the genre hop, Ava is no exception.
What’s more, casting Davis as Ava’s mother indirectly puts our antihero in the lineage of The Long Kiss Goodnight’s CIA killer Charley Baltimore, but Matthew Newton’s script doesn’t go in for the Shane Black approach to the home-work life balance. There’s an enjoyably lived-in, if slightly soapy quality, to the domestic situation. This shines largely through the mother’s role, particularly in one touching monologue later on – proof that you can never have too much Geena Davis in a movie.
The work side of things is similarly enlivened by great performances, but it’s much more generic. Where the John Wick movies have set a gold standard for detailed customs and characters lurking on the underbelly of organised crime, Ava trades in more conventional shorthand and leaves the pizzazz to the actors. Malkovich and Farrell are good value as always, and there are striking performances from Joan Chen as an illegal gambling boss and Diana Silvers as Farrell’s ever-watchful daughter, Camille.
All in all, the result is markedly unfussy when it comes to the fight scenes, which have some of the crunching, violent quality of Mr Wick’s exploits but none of the balletic action. It’s still a bit self-consciously choreographed as Ava steam-rolls through up to 10 attackers in a scene but, as in the dialogue scenes, director Tate Taylor plays more for impact than execution.
That Taylor most recently directed Ma – a psychological horror film starring frequent collaborator Octavia Spencer – and now comes to an assassin thriller with Chastain, leaves you wondering where his next genre collaboration with one of The Help’s ensemble is coming from. Whether it’s an Emma Stone slasher or Die Hard With A Viola Davis, the filmmaker’s track record of solidly entertaining 3-star movies is intact with his latest.
Ava (2020) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.