Ava tells story of Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain), who has a troubled past, a turbulent present, and an uncertain future.
As we learn via a series of still frames during the film’s opening credits, Ava was the valedictorian of her high school class but her bright future was derailed by her own alcoholism. She killed two of her friends while driving drunk and, presumably to avoid prison, she instead went into the army. In the army, she was noted for being an efficient killer while, at the same time, being a bit unstable. She has issues with authority. Well, don’t we all? When she got out of the army, she was recruited by Duke (John Malkovich), who taught her how to be an international assassin!
Unfortunately, since Ava screwed up her last mission and has gotten into the habit of talking to her targets before she kills them, Simon (Colin Farrell) wants her dead. Simon also used to be a student of Duke’s but now he is Duke’s boss or something. It’s all a bit vague and, to be honest, I found myself spending way too much time trying to figure out the corporate structure of whatever group it was that everyone was supposedly working for. Apparently, Duke works for Simon but Simon still has to get Duke’s permission before trying to kill Ava or, failing that, try to kill Duke so that Duke won’t complain about it. Duke spends a lot of time fishing and Simon spends a lot of time with his adorable family. I liked Simon’s house.
Anyway, Ava has returned to Boston, where she’s trying to reconnect with her family. It turns out that teenage Ava discovered that her father was cheating on her mom and that’s what set Ava on her downward spiral. Mom (Geena Davis) is now a hypercritical semi-recluse. Meanwhile, Ava’s sister, Judy (Jess Wexler), is a singer in a band and she’s engaged to Michael (Common, who, for some reason, keeps getting cast in all of these extremely wimpy roles), who just happens to be Ava’s ex-boyfriend. And Michael is a gambling addict who owes a ton of money to Toni (Joan Chen). It’s hinted that Toni and Ava also have a past but then again, everyone in the film has a past with Ava. It’s get a little bit difficult to keep track of it all.
Ava gets off to a bad start by making us sit through one of Ava’s jobs. She kills an accountant but first she asks him a lot questions about why anyone would want him dead because apparently, she’s an ethical assassin. The scene goes on forever and it features Jessica Chastain trying to speak with an Arkansas accent. Things picked up a bit during the opening credits, which was largely made up of still frames from Ava’s past. However, once the credits ended and the film’s actual story got started, things quickly went back downhill.
The main problem with Ava is one of sensibility. Both Jessica Chastain and director Tate Taylor have totally the wrong sensibility for a film like this. Ava is essentially a work of pulp fiction but Chastain takes herself far too seriously to actually bring a sense of fun to the title role. Meanwhile, Tate Taylor directs as if he’s never had a single subversive thought in his life. (In Taylor’s defense, he was a last minute replacement for the film’s original director, Matthew Newton.) Ava is a film that cries out for a star like Gina Carano and a director like John Stockwell, people who have no hesitation about totally digging in and embracing the silliness of it all. Instead, we get Chastain and Taylor trying to give us a semi-realistic look at a woman battling her addictions and trying make peace with her past. Malkovich, Farrell, and Chen all seem to get the fact that Ava should be a fun B-movie, unfortunately, Taylor and Chastain apparently didn’t get the memo. (Of course, Chastain produced the film so maybe it was her co-stars who didn’t get the memo. Who knows?)