Ava fumbles its attempt to mix the standard globetrotting assassin formula with an intense family drama. A cliché-ridden script with clunky dialogue devolves into a bullets and beatdowns soap opera. Jessica Chastain is formidable as always in a brutally physical lead performance. Her tremendous effort and all-star ensemble cast aren’t enough to rescue the film. The predictable narrative fails at a base level with sizable plot holes.
Ava opens near Paris with a lethal contract killer completing an assignment. Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain) is unaware that the operation is being monitored. She contacts “management” to confirm the “client” has been taken care of. Her handler, Duke (John Malkovich), inquires about her mental state. Ava is deeply troubled, but confirms everything is alright. She decides to return home to Boston after an eight year absence.
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Ava’s sister (Jess Weixler) and hospitalized mother (Geena Davis) are stunned to see her. We learn that Ava is a recovering addict who abandoned her family. She mysteriously left everyone and everything behind, including a fiancé (Common) who is now her sister’s boyfriend. As Ava struggles to reconcile with her past, Duke assuages “management” concerns. His superior (Colin Farrell) wonders if Ava has become a liability to the company.
The issues start early and continue throughout the film. The protagonist’s initial exposition is delivered via montage during the opening credits. We are spoon-fed that Ava had substance abuse problems, but is now an ass-kicking hitwoman for an unnamed clandestine organization. Her damaged psyche and unresolved family conflicts are an obvious red flag. An elite killer would be able to sniff out a betrayal immediately. Also, it’s nonsensical that Ava can’t be easily killed at any point in Boston. The antagonists are always aware of her whereabouts. Ava could be run over by a car, shot by a sniper, or had a piano fall on her head. There’s never a logical reason to engage such a dangerous adversary in single combat.
The interplay between Ava, her family, and former lover is dreadful. The need for depth is understandable. The filmmakers wanted to give Ava a personal connection to add dramatic heft; differentiate her character by adding a layered backstory. They were too ambitious in this regard. Ava becomes mired in sluggish melodrama. The film grinds to a standstill between the bickering and crying. Any excitement generated by the action scenes are deflated like a balloon. Ava repeatedly turns into a Lifetime movie of the week.
Ava has another family dynamic that is briefly explored. Colin Farrell’s baddie has a subplot with his own daughter (Diana Silvers). She’s a minor character, but also a part of the “management” structure. This part of the story is intriguing, but purposely kept under wraps for future installments. The groundwork is laid for a sequel. This is an arrogant presumption from the filmmakers. They add another element to an already muddled film.
Jessica Chastain does a lot of heavy lifting to no avail. I can see why the character appealed to her. Ava is tough as hell, but emotionally vulnerable. She’s more than a mindless killing machine. Unfortunately, the film built around her is significantly flawed. There’s too much going on and poor execution. Ava would have been better realized as a television series. Ava is a production of Voltage Pictures and Freckle Films. It will be available September 25th on demand from Vertical Entertainment.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.