Memory detectives. They are a special kind of psychic that with the use of special technology and the right formal setting can enter into a subjects memories and witness events they never saw for themselves. In this world, the ability hasn't quite been accepted by the whole world as an absolute way to discover the truth, but it often plays a useful part.
John (Mark Strong) was one of the more talented viewers, until his personal memories began to interfere with his work, and puts his life at risk. He goes on leave, but slowly runs and of money and must return. His boss (Brian Cox) gives him a job that should be easy -- a rich teenage girl named Anna (Taissa Farmiga) is on a hunger strike and her parents hire John to use his skill as a therapeutic way to convince her to eat. But he quickly discovers that this job is nowhere near as simple as it seemed, and the more he gets to know his patient and searches through the brilliant but disturbed girl's memories, the more it seems that something sinister is afoot.
There are four things about this film that make it memorable.
Number one: Mark Strong. I've always enjoyed seeing him in movies. He shows up quite often, and always does a great job, keeping that movie's energy and interest going while it's not focused on the hero -- because he's usually in a supporting role or a villain. Here, he's the lead, and it was really great to see him pull the movie almost singlehandedly, and so effortlessly. He has a fantastic, mesmerizing screen presence (that is perfectly complemented by this film's tone) and his character of John was simultaneously an endearing and hardcore type hero. I totally and thoroughly enjoyed watching him take the leading role and will now be keeping an eye out for more films were he does the same.
Number two: Speaking of mesmerizing -- Taissa Farmiga hits a striking balance of coldness and mysterious depth as Anna. I've never seen her in anything else, and I was impressed by her performance in the very complicated role she had. She played off of Mark Strong very well and their scenes together are quite good. The kind of character Anna is is a hard one to portray on screen; where the character is more in her thoughts than it is in what she says, yet she hides her thoughts, keeping them from surfacing via facial expressions. It's a hard conundrum to get past, and Farmiga handles it well, always coming across the way she's supposed to, and only once or twice reminding me that she was acting.
Number three: The suspense aspect. This movie is one of the more effective and pure-bred suspense films I've seen, and it really worked on me. I spent the whole movie wondering, thrilled, and tensely waiting for the conclusion while the plot glided easily along in a classic slow build-up to the action-based and intense climax. I watched the movie twice (more on that in a second) and while I did still enjoy and appreciate the suspense aspect the second time as well, the not knowing where the plot was building to was what engaged me most the first time. It was the most involving point of the whole film and made for a great viewing experience.
Number four: This is a memorable thing that may not be totally a good thing -- the mystery side of things. This is why I watched the movie again so fast. I had a lot of questions after the first viewing and wanted to see if I could piece the open ends together. I did to my own satisfaction, but I had to use simple opinions and guesswork; the movie leaves a lot of the mystery unexplained. Not that it isn't explainable, just that the film never bothers to. So there are two sides to look at for this. On one hand, loose ends bother me as it seems like laziness, but on the other, the main point of the ending was made clear, and explaining all those side ends may have taken away from the impact and artistry of the film. Plus, it made me think, and that's never a bad thing.
Recommendation-wise, I only have one reservation; that the movie earns its R in one scene with quick flashes of nude photos. Anna is an ideal movie for people who enjoy giving their brains a workout while being entertained, and even more ideal for people who appreciate the subtlety of suspense. Farmiga and Anna's intriguing character add a lot, but ultimately this is Mark Strong's movie. He is both the focus of the film and the thing that hold it all together, with his enigmatically captivating and commanding presence.