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Movie Review: “Ava”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 9/25/2020. Here is my review of Ava, starring Jessica Chastain and John Malkovich.

Theatrical Release: 9/25/2020. Here is my review of Ava, starring Jessica Chastain and John Malkovich.

Ava: What Happens When an Assassin Is Bored?

Ava (Jessica Chastain) is a skilled assassin, but she is growing tired of the cold murders. She longs to know what her targets have done that have led to someone wanting them dead, but she rarely gets the satisfaction of knowing her targets deserve it. Her handler, Duke (John Malkovich), favors her over all other assassins, but he is well aware of her issues. She has let the job get to her head before, and he is growing concerned that she may be losing control once again.

Ava has had a history of alcohol abuse, and while she has been sober for awhile, she is tempted to start drinking again. She has also decided to make a trip back home to see her family, who she has not seen in eight years.

When she does so, it stirs the pot that is her past. She hates her father for the way he treated her when she was young, she holds a grudge against her mother for taking his side, and her leaving put her and her sister on bad terms.

Ava returned to Boston to reunite with her sister, but the family drama only adds to the issues she has been struggling with. To make matters worse, her employer has grown concerned about her issues, and has decided she is a liability that needs to be eliminated.

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Jessica Chastain (+4pts)

Ava’s Backstory & Alcohol (-4pts)

The Action (+4pts)

Ava & Duke (-2pts)

Ava & Her Family (+3pts)

The Hit-Woman (-4pts)


Pro: Jessica Chastain (+4pts)

Usually, Jessica Chastain is able to do a lot more. She is usually one of the better parts of the movies she is in, but this movie did not give her a whole lot to work with. Her character was cold, and she was struggling to find meaning. She was fairly emotionless, and while that helped her come across as a badass, it had the side effect of not letting Jessica Chastain do a whole lot with the role.

Fortunately, when the role did call for her to deliver emotion, and drama, I thought she crushed it. The character had a past, and while I did not think it was as bad as the filmmakers suggested it was—I will get into that later—I thought Jessica Chastain effectively brought the emotional side of the character to the screen. There was her struggle with alcohol, which was frustratingly typical, but I thought Jessica Chastain effectively sold the feeling that alcohol was pulling her in, calling to her. There was also her struggle with her family, which again did not seem as bad as she made it out to be, but Jessica Chastain got me to feel the complexity and the tension that went into her character’s relationships. Then there was the character’s struggle with her job, and there was the dramatic, emotional scene where the character broke down just before the story’s climax. The role did not give Jessica Chastain a whole lot to work with, but I thought she did a great job with what she was given.


Con: Ava’s Backstory & Alcohol (-4pts)

Ava’s backstory had been hinted at throughout the first act of the movie. We got a montage showing her joining the military and how that progressed into her life as a hit-woman. What we did not get was why she went down that path in the first place. The story hinted at problems at home during her childhood, but then when Ava finally revealed what actually happened, it left me wondering what else had gone wrong. Her explanation of what sparked her issues with her father—which ultimately led to her issues with her mother and sister—did not seem that bad. Sure, the scenario she described would have led to some family tension, but I did not buy that it would have been enough to start Ava on the path she was on.

Then there was the alcohol abuse. How many stories have you seen in which the main character was exceptional in some way, but they had a bad relationship with alcohol, which threatened to wreck everything? For me personally, I have seen countless stories just like that. Alcohol abuse as a character flaw has become an incredibly overused trope, and while I thought Jessica Chastain made it as believable as she could, I could not get over the fact that I have seen this storyline play out over and over again. This would not have been so noticeable if it there was more going on in the plot, but the plot was pretty simple, and it made this trope stick out like a sore thumb. I have seen this story before, you have seen this story before, and the filmmakers did not bother to add any twists to make it interesting.

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Pro: The Action (+4pts)

The action in this movie was fine. It was not bad, there was not anything exceptional about it, but Ava was an action movie with plenty of action just exciting enough to keep me watching. There were, however, a couple action sequences that stood out, because they were more than just Ava taking down a bunch of nameless, faceless goons. The first was the fight scene between Colin Farrell and John Malkovich, and the second was the fight scene between Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell in the hotel. Both of these scenes were personal, as the characters in them had history with one another, which made the stakes of the scenes feel greater. These scenes also felt raw—even though I am 100% sure every shot was choreographed in great detail—which made the hits feel harder. These scenes were pretty good, the overall action was fine, and I appreciated that the filmmakers did not resort to lazy and disorienting shaky cam.


Con: Ava & Duke (-2pts)

While I enjoyed what we got of the relationship between these two characters, I felt like the filmmakers really only scratched the surface with it. Things that happened later on in the movie were a lot less impactful than they should have been, as a result. Rather than focus so heavily on Ava and her family—considering the filmmakers clearly did not have a decent story to tell there—I think the filmmakers should have given more focus to Ava and her relationship with Duke (John Malkovich). Why not show us more of him being the father she never had? Why not show how much she cared about him, despite her distrustful nature and rebellious attitude? The relationship between these two characters was far more interesting than Ava’s relationship with her mom, sister, and ex. Yet, rather then fleshing out the more interesting relationship, which would have fueled more emotion into the movie's climax, the filmmakers chose to spend far more screentime showing the boring, and unremarkable relationships between Ava and her family.


Pro: Ava & Her Family (+3pts)

I did not think Ava’s backstory with respect to her family was interesting. I did not think Ava’s story justified her extreme life she had, I did not think it justified her hatred for her mother, and I did not think it justified her abandoning her sister. As such, I was not very interested in the movie while it was exploring those things. That all being said, I liked the idea of Ava being this badass killing machine in ordinary relationships, with her family having no idea what she was. It made for some interesting scenarios, like when she had to get her ex out of trouble, and when she showed up to her sister’s place all bloodied and beaten. These scenarios were amusing, and knowing what Ava was while her family did not made the scenes between these characters a lot more interesting. The amusing scenarios were pretty few and far between, and this issue did not make this movie feel more eventful than it was, but this idea did give this movie some unique flavor during the slower sections.


Con: The Hit-Woman (-4pts)

Take nothing away from Jessica Chastain, but I did not buy her as the killing machine that the filmmakers made her out to be, as Ava did not really do anything in this entire movie to prove that she was exceptional. Rather than just have her be a woman who outsmarted men, stealthily took out her targets, and taking down the occasional baddie in hand-to-hand combat, the filmmakers instead had her running straight up to countless men in full body armor, taking them out in hand-to-hand combat with little to no effort. She also got hit plenty of times, but if the person hitting her was not an assassin like her, every hit she received seemed to bounce off of her like she was being hit by a pillow. Meanwhile every hit she dealt seemed like she was hitting them with a blunt object.

Basically, despite Ava’s size, what she was using as a weapon, the size of her enemies, or the armor they had on them, the filmmakers had Ava cutting through the nameless, faceless baddies like butter, and it was just too unbelievable for me. The filmmakers basically gave no effort in trying to show her as being exceptional. They just told us that she was, dialed her stats up to 100, and dialing her enemies’ stats down to 1. By doing this, they made it hard to buy Jessica Chastain as an incredible killer, and they diminished the suspense in a number of action sequences.

Grading Scale






























Grade: C+ (76pts)

I was not expecting a whole from this movie, but I like action movies, and I think Jessica Chastain is a strength in every movie that she is in, so I gave this movie a shot. Most of the action was mediocre, as the filmmakers made Ava unrealistically unbeatable when going up against random henchmen. That action was still entertaining enough to keep me watching, but it could have been a lot better than it was. I did enjoy two specific action sequences, as these were personal 1-on-1 fights that felt raw, and had a lot of hard hits. Jessica Chastain was definitely one of the movies’ strengths, as she crushed the dramatic moments whenever the role let her do so, but unfortunately, Ava was generally a cold, emotionless character, so Jessica Chastain did not have a whole lot to work with.

One of Ava’s character flaws was the overused trope of alcohol abuse, and her backstory with respect to her family did not seem to justify the extreme path she went down. I thought the far more interesting relationship was the one between her and Duke, but the filmmakers barely scratched the surface with it, so it did not have much impact in the story‘s climax. I would not go as far as to say this was a bad movie, but as far as action movies go, this one was as average as they get. It was fine, but it was really nothing special.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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