Brief synopsis: An elite assassin is thought to be a liability to her organisation when she begins to stray from normal protocols and begins to question her missions. The head of the organisation decides that she needs to be eliminated.
Is it any good?: Ava is an okay slightly misjudged thriller/drama. With a strong cast and a moderately good premise, Ava should have been an action thriller to equal the 2010 Angelina Jolie starrer, Salt, even if it was aiming for the far superior Charlize Theron starrer, 2017’s Atomic Blonde.
Unfortunately, Ava suffers from being a little too heavy on drama over action and, unusually, being too short in runtime.
Spoiler territory: Ava (Jessica Chastain), acting as a chauffeur, picks up financier, Peter Hamilton (Ioan Gruffud) at the airport. A woman on a motorcycle watches Ava picking Peter up. She greets him in French but once in the car, Peter, noting her accent is American, speaks English. The woman on the motorcycle follows them.
Peter is taken by Ava’s attractiveness and asks her name. She tells him that she is called Brandy. He asks her what she would like to do and she tells him that she would like to stop the car and join him in the back seat for a drink. She stops the car.
The woman on the motorcycle stops. Ava gets into the back of the car with Peter. The woman on the motorcycle gets out a directional microphone to listen in on Ava and Peter’s conversation in the car. In the car, Ava asks Peter what he did. Peter is confused. She tells him that he must have done something for someone to want him dead.
Peter sees that she is pointing a gun at him. He begs her not to kill him. Ava wants to know what he did but can see that he does not know. Ava kills him. She contacts management to confirm the kill. The woman on the motorcycle rides off. Duke (John Malkovich) asks if there were any hiccups on the job. Ava tells him no.
She tells Duke that she is taking a break, going to Boston. As she travels, she remembers an idyllic childhood and going off the rails in her teenage years, getting into drugs and alcohol. She found purpose in the military and served with distinction. She became a covert assassin even as her issues with substance abuse resurfaced.
In Boston, Ava checks into a hotel. Outside a club, Alain (Efka Kvaraciejus) is tasked with keeping an eye on Ava by Duke. Ava goes for a run. She returns to her hotel room and is momentarily tempted by the mini bar in the small fridge. She receives a parcel. It is a gun, passport and cash.
She goes out to a small club. Her sister, Judy (Jess Weixler), is in the band. After the show, Judy sees her. She is not over the moon about it. Ava disappeared from her life eight years before. Judy assumes that Ava has returned because of the email she sent her. Ava does not know about the email. Judy tells her their mother had a heart attack and is in hospital.
The next morning, Ava and Judy visit their mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis). Bobbi is passively aggressive towards Ava, making subtle and not so subtle comments about her life and appearance. She brings up Michael (Common), Judy’s partner.
Ava gets a new assignment. She is to kill a general, Gunther (Christopher J. Domig), in Saudi Arabia. She has to make it look like natural causes. Ava gets to Saudi and during an initial meeting with Gunther, Ava says the wrong name, alerting one of the general’s aides. Gunther, not noticing anything odd, invites Ava up to his apartment.
In the apartment, Ava injects Gunther with a drug to kill him by inducing a heart attack. Before he dies, the general’s aides start banging on the door. Ava is forced to kill them and all the security that comes to his aide. As she escapes, she kills multiple military personnel.
Ava goes to see Duke. The intelligence was wrong, she was given the wrong name. Duke tells her it was a typo and that management know that the error was not on her part. Duke asks her about talking to her kills. He asks her if she is using drugs again. She assures him she is not. She asks Duke if they are trying to kill her. He says they are not. It was a mistake. She tells him she is going to take some time off.
Ava goes to see her mother and runs into Michael. They have a history so the meeting is slightly awkward. Ava goes to an addicts meeting. She tells them how she ended up leaving home after catching her father with another woman and threatening to tell her mother.
Because she was already an addict, her father had told her that he would just tell Bobbi that she was lying to cover for her thefts. So she left and joined the army. She did not return until after he had died. Duke goes to see Simon (Colin Farrell).
Simon is having a christening for his son. He is also the manager. He asks about Ava. He is worried that she is fallible. Duke assures him she is not and that she is the best agent they have. Simon tells Duke he will let her rest. Duke leaves.
Simon speaks with his daughter, Camille (Diana Silvers). He wants Ava dead. He tells her to call Alain and take care of it. Camille asks what they should do about Duke? Simon is not worried about Duke.
Ava goes for a run and is followed by Alain. As she runs through the park, he attacks and they fight. Ava manages to overcome him but when he pulls a gun, she runs. Alain goes after her and loses her by the fountains. Ava emerges from the fountain and kills him.
Ava goes to see Duke again. Why is management trying to kill her? He tells her the company is not trying to kill her. He tells her that he told Simon not to touch her. The man who tried to kill her was a junkie. Ava is not convinced. Ava goes to dinner with Michael and Judy. Judy, who is drinking a little too much, takes offence at Michael’s conversation and starts sniping at Ava.
Judy leaves. Michael and Ava talk for a bit. She apologises for leaving without saying anything. Michael leaves. Judy comes to see Ava. It is five in the morning and Michael has not come home. Ava asks when he started gambling again. Judy tells her that Michael never stopped gambling. Ava goes to find Michael, she knows where to look.
She goes to see Toni (Joan Chen), who runs an underground gambling den and club. Michael is at a table with Toni and a load of other gamblers. Toni gets up to talk to her. She does not want to let Michael leave. Ava is forced to pacify several of her henchmen before they can leave.
Michael wants to know where she has been and how she learned to fight. Ava does not tell him anything. He tells her that he wanted to marry her before she disappeared eight years ago. Ava leaves again. She returns to the hotel and goes to the bar and asks for a double scotch. She does not drink it.
Duke goes to see Simon. He knows that he is trying to kill Ava. Simon tells him that he did not tell him because he wanted to spare his feelings. Duke tells him to rescind the kill order. Simon refuses. Duke pulls a gun on him. Camille pulls a gun on Duke. They are interrupted by Simon’s young daughter, Daniela (Simonne Stern).
Daniela’s mother comes and gets her. Simon and Duke fight. Simon pulls a knife and slices Duke across the guts. He cuts him again, incapacitating him. Ava goes to see her mother. Bobbi admits, over a game of cards, that she was too weak to leave her husband and she knew that Ava was not lying all those years ago.
Simon has Duke chained-up on at the of a pier. He kills him by pushing him into the lake. He films the whole lot. He sends the video to Ava and calls her to tell her who he is and that he has killed Duke. Ava tells him that she is going to kill him. She watches the video.
Ava goes to Judy’s home and tries to persuade Michael to run off with her whilst Judy is at work. Michael tells her that Judy is pregnant. A stunned Ava leaves. She goes to see Toni. The gambling den is a nightclub at night and Ava kills multiple henchmen as she goes looking for Toni. As she beats people up, the club’s crowd disperse. Toni comes out to face her.
Ava lets Toni beat on her for a bit and admits she wanted to steal her sister’s fiancé away from her. She tells Toni that she has killed forty-one people. She stops Toni hitting her and begins to choke her. She pays off Michael’s debts and leaves. She returns to the hotel and raids the minibar.
Simon sneaks into her hotel room and tries to kill her. They end up fighting. They fight to a standstill. A fire alarm goes off, the hotel being evacuated. Simon leaves and tells Ava he will kill her if he sees her again. Ava gets the money and gun and passport she received when she arrived and goes after Simon.
She catches up with Simon and kills him. She goes and sees Judy and tells her to take their mother and Michael and leave the country. She gives her money and an off-shore account number. She leaves. As she leaves, Camille follows after her. The end.
Final thoughts: Ava is a moderately enjoyable thriller that is let down by having to compress so much story into such a short runtime. At ninety-seven minutes long, Ava is not a short film it is just that there are too many strands of story to unravel and tidy up.
Chastain is great and believable as the lethal Ava and carries the film comfortably. The story is quite lightweight, not that it is an issue, after all, it is an action movie. Unfortunately, there is not quite enough action. It is not even a case of too much exposition, it is just too much stuff. The strange problem is the story, by Matthew Newton, is too interesting.
This makes the central story of Ava being a target, get lost in the other stories. Directed by Tate Taylor, the film looks good and is nicely directed with some interesting sound work interspersed with the visuals. All the actors are, unsurprisingly, good. Farrell manages to stay the right side of hammy and Malkovich almost steals the film with his laconic style and delivery.
Ava moves at a good pace and entertains throughout its runtime but it is still a bit of a let down in the end.