Jessica Chastain slums it in an action-thriller that gamely attempts to flesh out the clichés.


Ava (2020)

Killing Ava: Jessica Chastain 


It’s almost a rites-of-passage for a powerful, beautiful Hollywood actress to play an assassin. From Kathleen Turner to Uma Thurman, Angelina Jolie to Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence to Saoirse Ronan, they’ve all had a go at it. Geena Davis played a particularly interesting variation in The Long Kiss Goodnight, a killer with amnesia who thinks she’s a small-town mother and schoolteacher. Geena Davis crops up in a rather different incarnation in Tate Taylor’s Ava, and is once again completely in the dark. She has no idea that her own daughter is a top-level international assassin. The latter is played by Jessica Chastain (of all people), who seems to have been slumming it of late. Following her auspicious breakthrough in such high-profile productions as The Tree of Life, Zero Dark Thirty and, indeed, Tate Taylor’s The Help, Ms Chastain has recently gone all genre. Her last two films were Dark Phoenix and It Chapter Two, the former a chapter in the X-Men series, the latter the sequel to a horror remake. And in both films she played supporting parts. At least in Ava she gets to play the title role and has a producer’s credit. Or maybe she’s cashing in a favour to Tate Taylor, who helped her secure her first Oscar nomination. But isn’t she better than this?


However, few formulaic action-thrillers start with such a sustained shot of its leading lady’s face. Ava Faulkner is at the wheel of a car and is busy thinking, along with applying her lipstick, adjusting her hair, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, puffing out her cheeks and, well, just being human. And then she kills someone. Of course, Ava is more than just an assassin. She’s a daughter, a sister, an alcoholic, a former drug addict and was once engaged to her sibling’s fiancé, Michael (Common). In fact, there’s more backstory here than you can shake a chainstick at. Even the bad guys have backstories: the very, very wicked Simon (Colin Farrell) has a delightful little daughter, while Ava’s mentor, the amoral Duke (John Malkovich), can only be described as avuncular. Yet in spite of Tate Taylor’s attempts to open out the genre, the exposition remains mechanical and the action scenes exceedingly improbable. “You’re my sister,” Ava tells her sister at one point, the better to enlighten the viewer. And at a sisterly dinner, Common is stuck with dialogue that could only have spilled out of a screenplay. To Ava: “You don’t get to come in here and try to fix everything. Okay? You don’t get to be that person.”


In spite of Taylor’s best efforts, his characters remain cyphers. But Ms Chastain is never less than watchable, although Ava’s drink problem is becoming a cliché of recent movies. And it’s never a good sign for a thriller when the most suspenseful moment is the protagonist reaching for the mini-bar.




Cast: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, Jess Weixler, Ioan Gruffudd, Diana Silvers, Joan Chen, Christopher Domig, Efka Kvaraciejus, Simonne Stern.


Dir Tate Taylor, Pro Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael, Nicolas Chartier and Dominic Rustam, Screenplay Matthew Newton, Ph Stephen Goldblatt, Pro Des Molly Hughes, Ed Zach Staenberg, Music Bear McCreary, Costumes Megan Coates, Jessica Chastain’s Vocal Coach Joan Washington.


Voltage Pictures/Freckle Films-Netflix.

96 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 6 December 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.