While director Andrew Niccol has never quite reached the box office heights of Christopher Nolan, there have been very few filmmakers that have made as many memorable contributions to original sci-fi as he has.
Gattaca, S1m0ne and In Time are just a few examples. And that’s just the ones he directed. His incredible (and Oscar-nominated) writing for The Truman Show alone shows that Niccol is a man that loves creating unique worlds in which we can explore our existence through a prism of the human experience.
And in his newest film, Anon, he takes us into the domain of another noteworthy science-fiction experience. Though the film doesn’t entirely suceed, there’s a lot to enjoy in this high-concept murder-mystery.
Detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) lives in a world where all individuals possess a “Mind’s Eye”; an advanced augmented-reality implant placed in each of their eyeballs. Said implants allow the owner access to a constant stream of information, as well as keeping a record of everything they see.
Because of this the large majority of murders are solved rather quickly, as police can simply search through the Mind’s Eye of the victim to see who murdered them. But Frieland soon finds himself at a murder scene where the victim’s implant was hacked, forcing them to witness their own death through the eyes of their killer. This in turn prevents the police from knowing who the murderer was, forcing the authorities to investigate the old-fashioned way.
Realising that someone with incredible technical skills was behind this, Frieland must dive into the dark world of hackers. He soon comes across a nameless young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who doesn’t appear on any kind of database and seems to be a technological ghost. Is she the key to solving this murder?
Say what you will about the ups and downs of Niccol’s work, but his world-building is almost next to none. Incredibly cold and clinical with a monochrome style, the harshness of Anon’s world strongly reflects the emptiness of our own lives. Even the little touches usually contribute something to the overall movie. For example, at first it’s hard not to be distracted by the fact that every single extra seems to motionlessly stare ahead, unblinking, never interacting with their surroundings. But then you realise each one is in their own little world, having whatever they want pumped directly into their eyeballs. A most relevant portrayal when considering our phone-obsessed society.
But when it comes to the actual murder investigation, there’s a distinct lack of imagination. It mostly consists of people searching through their own Mind’s Eye, or remote accessing others, by just sitting down and staring off into the distance. The resulting boredom is no different to what you would feel if you were watching paint dry.
It’s also a shame that more couldn’t have be done to differentiate Owen’s Frieland from other leading male detectives of the big screen. While there is a hint of originality when exploring Frieland’s opinion on when it’s okay to steal; this is then followed up by the usual alcoholism and dismissive ex-wife. Seyfried doesn’t fare much better either. While her look and general attitude comes across as a Bacall-esque femme fatale; no attempt is made to develop her character and she ends up being given very little to do outside of being a McGuffin.
While Anon is engaging enough as a whole, on some level it’s hard not to be disappointed by the simplistic murder-mystery tale that unfolds. When considering how many different directions this could have gone in, you are quickly reminded of Niccol’s previous film, In Time. In other words, an intriguing and exciting premise let down by its execution.