Possible spoilers ahead!
“Ava” was directed by Tate Taylor and tells the story of a woman named Ava (Jessica Chastain), a talented but at times unstable assassin. She’s adored by her mentor Duke (John Malkovich), but the mysterious organization they work for think of Ava as a problem. However, it’s not because Ava is a recovering alcoholic, but because she has a habit of asking her targets to confess the bad things they’ve done before she kills them. Ava’s employers see it as evidence of a moral streak that’s bubbling up in Ava and its bad business.
While Ava visits her hometown to try and repair her family relationships, another of Duke’s trainees, Simon (Colin Farrell) meets with Duke. Simon is a rising star in the company who’s being groomed as Duke’s replacement, and out of respect to Duke, Simon warns him that Ava has screwed up too many times. Those in charge have decided Ava should be “closed.” Duke realizes he can’t cover for Ava forever and faces a choice: follow orders or save someone he cares about.
“Ava” is not the movie I was expecting. I thought it would be more along the lines of “Atomic Blonde,” or even the streaming series “Hanna.” But “Ava” tries to be a little of everything and it doesn’t nail the landing on many things. This one of those movies that would have worked better as a streaming series rather than a movie because the filmmakers jammed so many storylines into a short amount of time which resulted in none of the plotlines getting much development past their initial introduction.
That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting plots hinted at in the film, there are. But plotlines such as Ava’s father betraying her when she was a drunk, her ex-boyfriend (now dating her sister) having a gambling problem, and Simon’s daughter joining the family “business.” But none of them are given time to make us care about them, and when they were finally resolved, it meant nothing to me. Had this been an 8-10 episode season, there would have been enough time to devote to everything, even Ava’s past in Boston and her time in the military.
Also, Ava trying to repair her relationship with her mom Bobbi (Geena Davis), her sister Judy (Jess Weixler), and her ex Michael (Common) could have been interesting to explore had we not been thrown into the middle of the chaos. You have material to work with, but there’s little to no build up to Ava’s family drama and everything we find out is told and not shown.
It wasn’t all bad though, there are a few aspects of “Ava” I did enjoy. The opening scene with Chastain pretending to be a chauffeur while her mark chats her up was rather good and set the tone for her character. The film is set in Boston and it’s always great to see my hometown on the screen and the filmmakers did a nice job showing certain areas in and around Boston. “Ava” also boasts some decent action scenes set in various locations. But perhaps my favorite action in the film was the one-on-one fight Jessica Chastain had with a would-be assassin in the middle of Boston Common.
Another highlight in the movie is its star, Jessica Chastain. Not only did she handle the dramatic parts extremely well, but she impressed me in the action scenes as well. But again, in a tv series, we would get to know Ava better instead of just being told she was a drunk, joined the military, and is now working for a shadowy agency. So either the movie needed to be longer than 96 minutes or a tv series was the way to go.
However, beyond John Malkovich’s Duke, the other supporting characters played by Geena Davis, Common, Joan Chen, and Jess Weixler don’t get much to do. There is material to work with, but the movie doesn’t have a long enough run time to make it work. Hell, the movie doesn’t give many answers to questions that pop up during the movie and that’s something that drives me nuts.
“Ava” is far from perfect, and the premise isn’t exactly fresh. Over the last three years alone “Atomic Blonde” and Prime’s “Hanna” have handled similar premises much better. And yet, there is enough good material in “Ava” to make me come back for a sequel. Jessica Chastain is great as the lead, and she definitely won me over with her action scenes. There are plenty of secrets that could still unravel in a second movie, but you need a longer movie, a series, and a maybe even new director.
“Ava” grade: C