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A Non-Entity

So this is what the aftermath of The Circle would look like. Only the circles are replaced with squares. And it’s no less absurd here.
Anon is a new Netflix science-fiction movie from Gattaca director Andrew Niccol set in a world without privacy that thinks it’s saying something prophetic about the technological age, but is actually just regurgitating a theme we all know thanks to common sense. Clothed in this unsubtle text is a neo-noir thriller plot borrowed from a variety of better sources.
It’s a future of total transparency in an attempt to eliminate crime. A vast network exists on which everyone is connected through eye-pieces that allow them access to the personal information of everyone they come in contact with. This also means Big Brother levels of surveillance. A cop, Sal Frieland (Clive Owen), is put in charge of an investigation into a serial killer who’s managed to hack into other peoples’ eyepieces to keep their murders a secret. In this capacity he’s led to an anonymous girl (Amanda Seyfried) who’s managed to escape the system and is a hacker herself.
A big reason for this movies’ failure is also a reason for the failure of The Circle, which is the idea that people would willingly submit to such extreme levels of surveillance over every moment of their lives. Anon tries to present this as a realistic or foreboding future, but it just doesn’t hold water as there are countless reasons it couldn’t happen. Forced or secretive government invasion of privacy is believable, but the notion that we’d all agree to this intense a level of public scrutiny based just on the internet and social media of today is preposterous. So with the premise as logically flawed as it is, the plot itself has to make up the creativity and intrigue. Unfortunately the plot is dull as a brick, and just as painful. The mystery is never compelling, the relationship between the two leads contrived, and even where it incorporates the central conceit of this world it just seems to rely on plot devices from other movies. For instance, the way the police stop crime feels very reminiscent of Minority Report, and just like that film it uses the manipulation of its technology as a plot point to potentially frame its protagonist. There’s a frequently recurring visual that’s a reference to Hitchcock’s Spellbound, despite being somewhat inauthentic. As a singular homage it would be fine, but it appears statically way too often throughout.
Another way the movie loses your interest is in its characters. Sal is unlikeable, detached, and boring -a gruff “bad cop” character like any other. He’s got a tragic backstory, with an estranged wife and a deceased son to explain this behaviour, but it too is clichéd and completely superfluous. And I think Clive Owen is getting to that Pierce Brosnan stage of his career of not caring in thriller movies, because he is really bad. He saunters through the movie completely disinterested almost for the whole run-time, and in the instances where he does emote, it’s really disingenuous. This is also the fault of bad characterization and bad direction, but Owen is clearly not putting much effort in. It’s disappointing too, because I know Owen can play the jaded cynic well -Children of Men is one of my favourite movies (also a film where he has a dead kid). Amanda Seyfried isn’t a whole lot better, her character intentionally being vague. Aside from her enigmatic existence and being the only character with the sense to realize the dystopia, she’s not played with any conviction or real sense of personality. To Seyfried too it may as well be just a pay cheque. The only actor giving a half-decent performance is Colm Feore as Sal’s superior. But he’s held back as well by being under-written.
“I can’t believe my eyes is not an expression” is an actual line of dialogue from this movie, which gives you a taste of how badly written it is. Not all the lines are laughable, many are just stupid. Exchanges between Sal and his ex-wife or between Sal and other minor characters are awkwardly structured, and, to top it, Anon has the audacity to open with a Robert Browning quote. One more thing is that with a story about constant surveillance, obviously there’s some non-consensual watching of nudity (women of course). However it doesn’t come off as a commentary on voyeurism, it just comes off as voyeurism.
Anon is a clumsy premise with a story almost as lazy as its cast. It’s attempt at making a statement on technology and the liberties we could conceivably give up for it is hollow and futile; and everything apart from that is recycled banality. There are much better cautionary fables to merit your time than this nonsense.

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