tue 24/09/2019

Anon review - adventures in cyber-noir | reviews, news & interviews

Anon review - adventures in cyber-noir

Anon review - adventures in cyber-noir

Old-school detective hunts the ghost in the machine

Press delete: detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) and the enigmatic Anon (Amanda Seyfried)

Though set in a futuristic (although not by much) world in which information technology has almost taken over the human psyche, Anon still relies on a crumpled whisky-drinking gumshoe for its protagonist. In this case, the relict of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe is detective Sal Frieland, played by Clive Owen with his habitual air of laconic disappointment. If anything good should happen in Sal’s world, he knows it won’t last.

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, auteur of sci-fi classic Gattaca and screenwriter of The Truman Show, Anon decants us into an identikit North American city – probably compiled from bits of Toronto and New York – in which most of the colour has been leached out, leaving only cold metal, chilly glass and grey concrete. A handful of electric cars thrum through the empty streets. The few pedestrians tread the pavements with zombie-like blankness, since everyone has been implanted with microchips which record their lives in real time, and offer access to communications or the internet right inside your own head. If you look at someone, a little information box pops up over their head giving their name and a screed of personal information. Indeed, anything in the physical environment can be similarly identified, even the star constellations in the sky. It’s reminiscent of TV show Person of Interest.

Most of the time, all this makes the job of a detective like Sal pretty simple, since everybody’s digital information is readily available in what’s called the Ether (Apple call it iCloud). A man looking for his missing son, for example, is horrified to be shown the latter’s view of his own suicide as he jumps off a skyscraper.AnonWhat this claustrophobic fog of information has not accounted for, however, is the possibility of somebody being able to exist invisibly, off the grid. “We require persistent identity,” growls the police commissioner fascistically, and Sal’s partner Charlie Gattis (Colm Feore) argues that “anonymity is the enemy”. But an anonymous enemy is exactly what they get, when they’re tasked with solving a series of brutal murders committed by a mystery female (the titular “Anon”, although we know her as Amanda Seyfried, pictured above) who leaves no digital trace.

The killer, who exhibits almost supernatural skills as she covers her tracks and rewrites her Ether-life to escape detection, has a particular fetish for making her victims view their own deaths through her eyes. They become like the first-person shooter in a computer game, watching as she puts a pistol to their head.

The victims, it seems, started off as Anon's clients, who hired her to erase their own crimes and misdemeanours. Sal throws himself in as bait, creating a fake identity for himself with the aim of recruiting “Anon” to manipulate his personal record. Plot-wise, Anon sticks to some familiar noir-ish trails and eventually wraps itself up with a whodunnit twist, but along the way Niccol raises some piquant questions about technology, identity and our passion for plastering all our personal details online. As Sal discovers, as his personal life history vanishes and digital hallucinations make him begin to doubt his sanity, digital data comes to mean whatever the cleverest manipulator of it wants it to mean, to the point where definitive answers cease to exist. “That’s the problem, nothing means anything,” he laments. When he says “I can’t believe my eyes,” he means it literally.

Niccol has framed his story in a world of dimly-lit interiors in soft browns and creams, devoid of human warmth but decorated with carefully-placed and exquisitely-curated artefacts. Relationships tend to be transactional and mildly pornographic, while the police keep a voyeuristic watch over their clientele from their stark, comfortless headquarters. It’s not a world a sane person would want to live in, but it could be coming to a town near you before very long.


Niccol rises some piquant questions about technology, identity and our passion for plastering all our personal details online


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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