More often than not, skilled workers don’t love the jobs they’re forced by either nature or circumstance to perform.
A case in point is Ava, who as portrayed by the very capable Jessica Chastain, is a very reluctant yet extremely efficient assassin. That she is capable of taking out several unsavory and unlucky (albeit determined) individuals with either a well-placed body blow or (more likely) a well-aimed bullet to the head fails to mollify her skeptical employers. You see, she has developed a habit of talking to her victims before she disposes of them (to see what makes them tick maybe—or perhaps to grant them more screen time). And (not so) naturally her superiors are concerned: John Malkovich, because he is fond of her and sees himself as her mentor, and Colin Farrell because…he’s written that way. (The movie doesn’t really come up with a plausible explanation—and it establishes she is very good at what she does, even when she is set up to fail.) But it’s not just work that’s getting Ava down—she does have a troubled home life complete with a family that feels abandoned and betrayed (there are reasons on both sides) and an ex (Common) who is now about to marry her sister. (And has some problems of his own.)
Lest it seem that my pithy synopsis suggests a certain disdain for the film, I can assure you that Ava is quite watchable, and even entertaining. Chastain rivals Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman in both acting and fighting chops—and she gets to be a bit more rueful than either. Colin Farrell and John Malkovich get to chew some serious scenery as they tangle both with Chastain’s Ava and each other. There are also welcome appearances by Geena Davis (twenty years after her Long Good Night) and Joan Chen (who holds her own in some close encounters with Chastain). The action sequences are well done (if a little drawn out and over the top) and the narrative is such that it could easily lead to a sequel (and dispense with the “backstories). Let’s just hope if Ava sticks to her job that she gets to enjoy it more. (Ava is in theaters and On Demand).
And as long as we’re discussing strong, willful female protagonists, let me put in a good word for Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s younger sister and a fairly good detective in her own right. While Sherlock puts in an appearance (well, more of a supporting contribution, as engagingly portrayed by Henry Cavill), this is really Enola’s story—and the start of a new franchise. And honestly, this would not be a bad idea, since Millie Bobby Brown is quite winning as the determined budding would-be detective eager to emerge from the shadow of…everyone. Early on, her enigmatic mother (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears, and Enola’s quest to find her is waylaid at first by her older brother Mycroft, who is determined to make a lady of her, then by the need to save the young Viscount Tewkesbury from an assassin in the employ of some powerful individuals (Of course, the fate of England is at stake.) The movie adroitly “breaks the fourth wall” at certain times, as the endearing Enola confides in us (sometimes it can be a little too much—but it’s forgivable), and the flashbacks of her mother are well-integrated into the narrative structure. While the mystery at the heart of Enola Holmes is not so mysterious (and as noted by others, Enola is less a mystery solver than a code-breaker), the film itself moves briskly, is populated with quirky characters (including Cavill’s likable, concerned Holmes, Frances de la Tour’s Duchess) and benefits from a director and a writer (Harry Bradbeer and Jack Thorne, from a novel by Nancy Springer) who know enough about the Holmes mystique to find clever ways of tweaking it. Here’s hoping that the sequels allow even more time for Enola and Sherlock to share the screen. (Enola Holmes is available on Netflix)