Published in 1949, George Orwell’s scarily prescient novel 1984 issued stark warnings about government surveillance, ideological manipulation and societal fragmentation to those who were willing to read and listen.
Many of Orwell’s concerns have been echoed in the work of New Zealand-born writer-director Andrew Niccol, who tampered with genetics in his eye-catching 1997 debut Gattaca before deservedly earning an Oscar nomination for his script for The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey.
Big Brother is closely watching all of us in Niccol’s latest dystopian thriller, a polished exercise in style over substance that promises far more than it delivers.
Anon unfolds in a bleak future where citizens of the world are permanently hard-wired to a vast cloud network called The Ether, which stores memories, visual and audio information as date- and time-encoded records.
Anyone can access their own personal data and relive the past – good or bad – in their mind’s eye or share fragments with friends and family, but it is impossible to amend or delete events from a timeline. Or so goes the theory.
Police detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) and colleague Charles Gattois (Colm Feore) are part of this sharply suited band of crime-fighters, who meticulously sift through the Ether under the aegis of Commissioner Joseph Kenik (Iddo Goldberg).
Lawmakers have the power to seize anyone’s records and sombrely confront suspected murderers, adulterers and cheats with undeniable evidence of their wrongdoing.
New world order is thrown into dizzying disarray when a hacker called Anon (Amanda Seyfried) finds a way to edit timelines and conceal the misdemeanours of her wealthy clientele.
Sal goes undercover with the police department’s technical wizard Lester Goodman (Joe Pingue) to entrap Anon.
The hacker proves a slippery adversary.
“It’s not that I have something to hide,” Anon coolly informs Sal. “It’s that I have nothing I want you to see.”
Unperturbed, the police gain access to Anon’s stream of visual data and they are impressed by her reluctance to fill her warehouse apartment with the latest technology.
“Gotta hand it to her. She really is analogue!” chuckles one of the team.
Anon walks the beat at a plodding, pedestrian pace.
The flawed logic of a faltering script is matched by thinly sketched characters and an achingly predictable attempt to pull the narrative from under our feet that we see coming before Niccol has a firm hold on the rug.
Owen’s largely lifeless performance hints at the monotony of Sal’s unedifying existence but also seems to reflect the soporific stupor that settles on the picture in its early stages.
Niccol’s script keeps Seyfried’s techno-rebel at arm’s length so there is never any danger of us forming an emotional attachment to her.
She logs in and we tune out.