Ava

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Ava Movie Poster Image
Clunky, bloody assassin action film misses its target.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While there are no clear positive messages, the movie does show a family resolving their problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ava is a tough assassin who can outmaneuver and physically defeat her male counterparts. Some diverse representations among the cast.

Violence

Intense action violence, often leading to death. Guns and shooting, including a shooting at a busy nightclub. Slit throat and stabbings. Blood splatter and bloody wounds. Many physical, choreographed fights with punches and kicks. Strangling. A person who's still alive is sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Sex

Brief passionate kissing. A character watches an underwear-clad threesome kissing on a bed. Ava uses her sexuality to corner men in a vulnerable position so she can kill them. Ava wears a slinky dress with a plunging neckline.

Language

Frequent use of "f--k." Other strong language includes "a--hole," "bulls--t," "damn, "hell," "prick," and "s--t." A woman calls herself "a slut."

Consumerism

A Range Rover is prominently featured. Wads of cash are seen, and Ava is paid large sums of money for killing people.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ava is in recovery from drug and alcohol dependencies and regularly feels challenged to stay sober. Smoking and drinking, including a character who gets drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ava is a violent action drama starring Jessica Chastain as an assassin. She's in recovery from alcohol and drug dependencies, which is mentioned repeatedly. She also takes deep sniffs of scotch, and other characters drink and smoke. Family conflicts are at the root of Ava's troubled past, and when she returns home, she must deal with them and find resolution. While this seems like it could be a female empowerment film, there's nothing aspirational about Ava other than that she's tough. She murders people without knowing why, hoping they've done something to deserve it. She still longs for her ex, even after he's moved on and moved in with her sister. And it feels more like she kicked her substance abuse habit out of reluctant necessity than out of strength. Expect lots of one-on-one action fighting, with guns and knives frequently used to kill. There's also a shooting in a nightclub that involves hundreds of fleeing clubgoers. A character observes a sexual threesome (no graphic nudity), and characters kiss passionately and dress in revealing clothing. Frequent cursing includes "s--t," "f--k," and more.

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What's the story?

AVA (Jessica Chastain) is a glamorous mercenary who's hired for high-profile assassinations in exotic locations. When a very public hit goes wrong, she returns home for the first time in nine years. Forced to confront her past, present, and future at the same time, she must decide whether she's worth fighting for. 

Is it any good?

Ava certainly has all the elements to make an intriguing thriller, but ultimately Chastain's mercenary with a moral compass is lifeless. Her backstory is compelling: A party-loving high school valedictorian's life goes askew when fun becomes dependence. She tries to clean up and start a new life in the Army, where her commanding officer recruits her to put her sniper skills to good use in a privatized black ops unit. But she needs to know that she's on the right side of justice, so she prods her targets to tell her why someone's put a hit out on them. And that swiftly becomes a problem for her "management." 

For viewers, the problem is that the script is rarely more elevated than that, at least not for Chastain's Ava. Some members of the cast take their hobbled material and run. John Malkovich wows as her mentor and handler, making the most out of every scene. Geena Davis plays Ava's mother (a wink to her own pioneering performance as a female assassin in The Long Kiss Goodnight), delivering a monolgue you'll think about for weeks. But for Ava and the rest of the characters, it seems like the dialogue was scratched together between action sequences -- which are also lacking, at least when Chastain is involved (which is most of the time). She doesn't sell the fight scenes: Their choreography is transparent through her movements. And when she jogs every night through the park, it looks like it's the first time she's ever gone on a run, not like someone whose body is a lethal weapon. That disconnect continues to Ava's mental state: The character is written to show some vulnerability, but Chastain's steely embodiment makes Ava feel emotionless. In previous roles like Zero Dark ThirtyMolly's Game, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Chastain has proven that she can portray women who are tough, determined, and able to best even the most skilled at their own game -- but as emotionless assassin Ava, she just doesn't execute.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the #TimesUp movement's impact on the film industry. Do you think it has directly led to more movies being made that feature women in roles traditionally held by men? 

  • Do you think Ava's violence is necessary to the story? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Is Ava a strong female character? Does her belief that she's murdering bad guys justify her actions? How does she compare to someone like Wonder Woman? Does she show courage?

  • How does the movie depict smoking, drinking, gambling, and references to past drug use? Is anything glamorized? Are there consequences? Why is that important?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love female action heroes

Themes & Topics

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