I’m not sure Amanda Seyfried gets enough credit for fearlessly diving into an incredibly wide array of roles — and nearly always delivering effective work.
Seyfried has averaged three movie roles per year over the last decade, appearing in bloody thrillers such as “Jennifer’s Body” and “Chloe”; goofy comedies such as “Ted 2” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West”; the musicals “Mamma Mia!” and “Les Miserables,” and risky fare such as “Lovelace” and the upcoming “First Reformed.” (Not to mention the TV series “Big Love” and “Twin Peaks.)
Now we can add Seyfried’s confident and subtle work as a character known only as the Girl in “Anon,” a slick and satisfying mind-trip of a sci-fi murder mystery with hints of “Total Recall” and “Minority Report,” among other films that paint a chilling picture of a near-future dominated by mind-boggling techno-advances.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol (writer of “Gattaca” and “The Truman Show”), “Anon” is a strikingly photographed film, with exteriors presented in cool shades of blue and gray, while the indoor scenes are bathed in warm and comforting tones of brown and beige.
Whether you’re home or out in the world, your entire life is transparent and traceable, because your mind’s eye records every moment — and everyone from your significant other to the authorities can ascertain if you’re telling the truth about where you’ve been and what you’ve done by accessing your unfiltered memories.
There’s no anonymity, no privacy — and not much illegal activity, because there’s literally a visual record of everything that takes place everywhere. (Let’s say a crime is committed on a city street. Not only would police have access to security cameras and the actual viewpoints of the criminal and the victim, they’d be able to see the incident as witnessed by anyone in the vicinity, even a baby in its mother’s arms.)
Clive Owen, doing that Clive Owen deadpan/brooding thing he does so well, plays Sal Frieland, a loner detective with a tragic past who finds little intrigue or excitement in a job where mysteries are all but solved before he begins his investigation.
A man visits the station, inquiring about the whereabouts of his troubled son. “You know what happened to him,” says the man. Sal reluctantly cues up a video of what the son saw in his final moments as he walked to the edge of a rooftop and jumped.
Ah, but things get interesting (and genuinely chilling) when a series of murders are committed — and when the authorities access the last few moments of the victims, they actually see things from the unknown gunman’s point of view. Somehow, the killer is hacking the victim’s mind’s-eye and creating a mirror image of what the killer sees.
“We actually got ourselves a whodunit,” says Sal.
Yes, it’s tricky to follow (and it gets even trickier), but the high-tech visuals keep us intrigued even when we share Sal’s confusion as to what in the blazes is going on.
Sal invents a man named Sol Grayson, a wealthy stockbroker, and creates a scenario in which Sol hooks up with a call girl and then casts a net looking for a hacker who can alter his recorded memories, so Sol will have an alibi for his fiancé.
This eventually leads Sal/Sol to meet the Girl, who has somehow managed to stay off the grid completely and is the prime suspect in the unsolved murders. (If she’s off the grid, how is she the prime suspect? Well, the thing is — ah, just trust me and go with it.)
She has the ability to erase herself from people’s memories — and to hack into someone’s mind and create scenarios that look and feel real to the hacked individual but are just virtual reality mirages.
Like so many detectives in film noirs over the decades, Sal finds himself getting emotionally entangled with the Girl even though he knows she’s trouble times two.
Of course, things eventually go sideways. “She keeps jacking my eye!” exclaims Sal. “I don’t know what I’m looking at any more. ‘I can’t believe my eyes’ is NOT an expression.”
I can’t tell you I bought every last twist and turn in the final act, but thanks to Niccol’s creative direction and the offbeat but effective chemistry between Owen’s emotionally damaged Sal and Seyfried’s is-she-hero-or-villain mystery woman, “Anon” kept me in its grips throughout.
One thing, though. Amanda Seyfried is 32 — the same age as Scott Eastwood, Jamie Bell, Dave Franco, Chace Crawford. If any of those guys were cast as the unnamed mystery suspect in this movie, would he be called “the Boy”? Why not just call her the Woman?
Netflix presents a film written and directed by Andrew Niccol. No MPAA rating. Running time: 100 minutes. Now showing on Netflix.