Not even a typically committed performance by Charlotte Rampling can keep “I, Anna” from playing more like “Oy, Anna.” A risibly convoluted London noir about an aging divorcee whose severe case of the lonelyhearts sends her careening from one fatally bad decision after another, this feature debut by Rampling’s son, TV/theater helmer Barnaby Southcombe, does a predictable, preposterous story no favors by making it do non-sequential narrative cartwheels. Classy lead pairing of Rampling and Gabriel Byrne will ensure some offshore sales, but poor word of mouth looks to keep arthouse biz at a trickle.
After an opening scene in which Anna (Rampling) makes an increasingly desperate phone call, the content and significance of which won’t be revealed until later down the road, the film winds its way back in time to the point where her troubles began. Still not quite over her divorce from a significantly younger man, Anna attends a speed-dating function in London, where she gets chatted up by bachelor George Stone (Ralph Brown).
Some time later, it seems, Anna has a brief run-in with a detective, Bernie (Byrne), who is investigating a bloody murder at a nearby high-rise. Despite this inauspicious beginning, Bernie can’t get the gravely elegant Anna out of his mind and winds up following her into another speed-dating event, where they bond over stories about their respective failed marriages in a moodily romantic sequence set to one of several soundtrack contributions by British singer-songwriter Richard Hawley.
It’s at this point that the flashbacks start coming fast and thick, as the film (adapted from a 1990 novel by Elsa Lewin) begins to piece together details of the crime Bernie is trying to solve, never mind that even halfway attentive viewers will have solved it five minutes ago. Also in the mix are a troubled young lad (Max Deacon) and his mother (Jodhi May), whose connection to the dead man is nothing short of a red herring. Perhaps most egregiously, there are glimpses of Anna’s happy home life with her daughter (Hayley Atwell) and granddaughter, scenes that seem to have been thrown in for the sole purpose of compounding tragedy with tragedy at the film’s overwrought climax.
Through it all, Rampling tempers her usually steely affect with a heartrending vulnerability that keeps you watching, even when the film heaps so many indignities and so much ill fortune on Anna that it starts to play like a demented cautionary tale about the potential pitfalls of looking for love in one’s twilight years. Thesp conjures a nice crackle of chemistry with Byrne, although the script would have done well to make Bernie less of a sad sack.
Moodily lensed in widescreen in London and Hamburg, Germany, the film at times goes for a deliberately blurred, impressionistic look, adding some widescreen smudges but little in the way of creepiness or tension. Editing scheme, however dictated by the contours of the script, is misguided.