Ava movie review: Cliches gut a good thriller
Luscious shots of four-star hotels and bars make this Tate Taylor film a stylish watch but with a catch.
Family drama; black comedy; coldblooded espionage thriller; Ava wants to be too many things at one go. And therein lies its weakness. Luscious shots of four-star hotels and bars make this Tate Taylor film a stylish watch. But with a catch. An estranged daughter returns home after eight years. Her ex-boyfriend is now in a relationship with her sister.
While their mother is recovering from a heart attack, their father, with whom she has a bad history, has recently passed away. The setting, rife with broken relationships and festering wounds, seems ripe for a family drama. But Taylor wants you to believe it is a stylish action thriller instead, about a trained assassin who has a target on her back.
Jessica Chastain plays the no-nonsense assassin with finesse. She balances the emotional notes and her role of a killing machine really well. John Malkovich as Duke, Ava's handler, is the father figure she never had, and the banter between them is both poignant and purposeful.
The oddball cast member is Colin Farrell. Too big a star for the role of Simon - he is the primary antagonist who is baying for Ava's blood for flimsy reasons. Maybe the role was written differently, making it seem important enough to have Farrell play it. But the onscreen translation is completely lost. It is almost a character one can do without.
It also doesn't help that Ava seems invincible. Right from the first time we meet her bumping off an English businessman in France, we recognise there is no danger she can’t fight her way out of. It is impressive how Chastain sells action, with every sequence ending with a last-gasp escape from a never-ending barrage of bullets and falling enemies.
Chastain barely suffers a scratch though. In the age of superhero films, this might seem normal to many, but it still leaves many a gap. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are great, but the aura of invincibility around the heroine robs you of unpredictability.
The emotional core of the film keeps matters going on nicely though - for example, the throwaway scene that establishes how she had no choice about her estrangement. There is a neat message tucked away about parenting, too. These compelling asides, however, don’t save Ava from being bogged down by clichés.
Ending with a promise of a sequel, it is understood that Ava isn’t exactly in the clear yet. This development makes Ava an Atomic Blonde-meets-John Wick that’s powered by a surprisingly tender emotional core. It does not always work, but Ava does have its moments - unfortunately, they get buried under the film’s chaos.