Clive Owen Struggles to Save His Identity in Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Anon’
In the future, according to Netflix’s sci-fi noir “Anon,” law enforcement scans everyone in real time. Names, education, police record as well as employment are simultaneously visible to police detectives with a licensed eye and the proper clearance. As one of the best at what he does, police detective Sol Frieland (Clive Owen) has that clearance, a clearance that is soon to become a curse.
As one of the best in his field, Frielander has access to the memories of others, with or without their permission or knowledge. When a crime is committed, Frielander replays the crime in his head. The criminal is established without doubt, and justice takes its course.
The job obsesses him. It destroys relationships and interrupts his sex life. And worse, it endows him with a god-like sense of knowledge, and knowledge is power. He chooses what to show clients, at times withholding memories to exonerate guilty parties whose stories are adequately sympathetic. All this certitude can grow boring, so he finds himself drifting into past thoughts of his only son, killed in a car accident while under his watch.
Then one day, by coincidence, he passes a stranger (Amanda Seyfried) on the street. Her scan is without a name or occupation. She is “unknown”. When people are murdered and a view of their memories reveal that their last memories were of the killer’s own point of view, Friedlander begins to suspect the anonymous stranger. Going undercover, he reaches out to the “Anon”. When his effort to trap her backfire, Frielander finds that his life is no longer his own. His memories, even those of his son, are erased and his reality can no longer to be trusted.
Set in a sterile grey/blue environment, “Anon” takes on the appearance of a futuristic film noir. Writer/ director Andrew Niccol doesn’t have the budget of “Blade Runner,” but the sets and mood are effective while playing into Anon’s attraction to mid-century modern. “She sure knows how to do analog,” declares one of the police hackers.
The film benefits from sympathetic lead actors. Clive Owen is convincing as the timeworn cynic, struggling with the sameness of his life. The sudden introduction of Seyfried energizes his life. When they finally meet, his feelings for her grow increasingly ambivalent as his own existence becomes steadily endangered. Amy Seyfried is earnest as the cipher that has erased her existence and for a fee, will do the same for well-heeled clients.
In spite of all the elements of a tragic love story, “Anon” is mostly a murder mystery and this is where it falls apart. While Owen is craggy and worn in all the right ways, Seyfried looks young, maybe too young, and fresh, maybe too fresh. Her credibility as a violent killer and cold-hearted eraser of humanity suffers from that fact that Seyfried doesn’t look any older than she did ten years ago.
“Anon” works its way to a resolution that just sort of splats on the screen without a backstory. Abrupt and confusing, it relies a bit too much on the viewers’ willingness to suspend credulity. All the technical explanations and futuristic realities demand attention from an audience in order to keep up with the story. After a compelling build-up and a convincing milieu, the ending would have been better served by something a bit more simple and a much better set up.
“Anon” is available May 4 on Netflix.