By: John M Jerva
STARRING: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Genna Davis, Common, Jess Weixler and Colin Farrell
DIRECTED BY: Tate Taylor
Synopsis: Ava is a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, traveling the globe specializing in high profile hits. When a job goes dangerously wrong she is forced to fight for her own survival.
THE REVIEW: First and foremost, let me just say that I’m a huge Jessica Chastain fan. The actress has starred in some truly great films with her turn in director Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty being my favorite. I for one thought that Chastain should have won a Best Actress Oscar that year for her portrayl as a CIA operative who makes it her personal mission to bring down Osama Bin Laden after 9/11. Chastain is one of those actresses that can truly elevate a film even if it’s not the greatest of movies.
With that in mind, I give you the new action-thriller Ava which has Chastain starring as the titular protagonist who is a steely eyed assassin who works for a shadowy goverment organization that specializes in low key hits on high profile targets who are corrupt and need dealing with. If they send Ava after you, then you’ve done something to earn it. I was excited to see Chastain in an action role because as a fan, I thought this would be epic. Unfortunately, it was not.
As the film opens we see Ava on a mission and that is to elimnate a crass businessmen played by The Fantastic Four‘s Ioan Gruffudd. Ava impersonates a chaueffer sent to pick him up at the airport and she caters to his large ego and when the target thinks he’s going to get lucky…guess what. Nope. He gets a bullet for his troubles. Ava is at a point in her career, however, where she’s starting to question the things she is doing and that doesn’t go well with her superiors. Her handler Dutch, played by the always capable John Malkovich, treats Ava like his own daughter and you can tell that he cares for her and that comes off as truly genuine in the film. When Dutch sees Ava at a crossroads, he wants to reach out and help.
Ava is damage goods and we soon learn that she is a recovering alcoholic and that her childhood was anything but pleasent with a father who clearly wasn’t going to win any awards. After the initial hit, viewers are treated to another mission but, of course, this one goes awry and Ava is forced to fight for her life in a blistering action sequence where she gets to showcase her skills with weapons and hand to hand combat. It is a promising scene that if the rest of the film would have stuck with it, it could have been so much better.
After said botched hit Dutch orders Ava to regroup and the assassin goes back home to Boston to visit her estranged family including sister Judy (Weixler) and her eccentric mother Bobbi played by the always game Geena Davis. Ava hasn’t been around a lot and her family questions if they even know her or not anymore. After all, they relly don’t know much about her professional life. To make things even more aykward, Judy is now living with Ava’s ex-boyfirend Michael played by Common. Ouch. What follows is a series of scenes fitting for a Hallmark movie my mother would watch and as I was watching it, I forgot it was an action movie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for character development but when my action films turn into a dysfunctional family drama then it’s time to cry foul.
Now back to the shadowy government organization that Ava works for. Colin Farrell makes a few appearances as Simon who is one of the top tier members of the group and it’s clear that he is not very high on Ava especially when she starts to show signs of erratic behavior. I guess you’re not supposed to ask questions right before you kill someone. What’s the big deal? They’re going to be dead in a minute, aren’t they?
Anyway, I digress. Now comes the part of the movie where said shadowy goverment agency wants to kill Ava because according to them and Simon who yells it at Dutch for more dramatic effect, she is no longer needed. So guess what, Ava now has to look over her shoulder and run from the very people who signed her checks. This all happens as Ava also deals with her dysfunctional family and the film once again switches gears towards Lifetime movie territory and Common is purely wasted in the thankless and wussy role of Michael. Remeber how bad ass Common was in John Wick: Chapter 2? Well here he’s reduced to looking bewildered all the time and trying to play catch up with Ava who has stormed back into his life.
Throughout the rest of the film there are a few more action scenes sprinkled throughout but they are easily forgettable and even though Chastain looks good doing them, they pale in comparison to films like, oh I don’t know, John Wick: Chapter 2. See what I did there. I brought it back to Mr. Wick because, you know, that movie kicks ass and was as advertised. Now let me say it again, I don’t mind my action movies having layers to them but here the family drama felt forced and all I was doing during it was waiting for the next action scene. Then there’s the inevitable showdown between Ava and Simon which is not a spoiler because it was in the trailer for pete’s sake. The trailer basically gave you the whole film. Chastain, like I said, came to play and she does the best with what she is given and does elevate an otherwise mediocre flick but it’s too little too late.
Malkovich is solid in his scenes and it is his relationship with ava that is one of the bright spots of the movie. We should have gotten more of the two of them but alas it’s not to be as Dutch is unceremoniously *SPOILER ALERT* killed off by Simon for some reason I already forgot. Before Dutch is dispatched, he dukes it out with Simon in a scene that seemed like it was added to just add fuel to the fire for Ava to hate Simon and lead to their innevitable fisticuffs.
It’s important to note that there was a lot of behind the scenes drama on Ava as the movie was initially called Eve but for some unknown reason, it was changed after filming had wrapped which reportedly made it necessary for the cast to do additional audio and shooting to change that aspect. What was wrong with Chastain’s character being named Eve? I don’t know but that was only one hiccup as the biggest bomb of them all was the fact that the film was supposed to be originally directed by Matthew Newton but after allegations of of past domestic violence surfaced, he was forced to step down and Tate Taylor took over. Newton is still credited with writing the film but it’s clear that things went in different directions. Now maybe it was all that which changed the scope of the picture and maybe it was intended to be different but the film we eventually got was subpar at best.
Chastain and company do their best with the material but for a film that has been done before like the assassin on the run from former employers plot, there are alot better out there and the action which was implemented by Jeff Imada who is an icon in the field left me wanting and to tell you the truth, I fogot about a lot of what I saw when the credits rolled. This film was the perfect example that when a trailer looks underwhelming, then it’s a bad sign and to stay away and watch something else. Here’s hoping Chastain takes another stab at the action genre and with better material, I think she’ll prove to everyone that she can truly master all genres.
VERDICT: 2 Out of 5 Stars
Ava is now available on Digital and VOD From Vertical Entertainment