Hanna (2011) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexual material, and language
Running time: 111 min.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Aldo Maland
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Review published April 16, 2011
Joe Wright (The Soloist, Pride & Prejudice) directs Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, I Could Never Be Your Woman) for a second time with Hanna, which tells the tale of a 16-year-old girl living a life of isolation with her father Erik (Bana, Star Trek) in the icy woods of northern Finland, spending practically every day being trained in the art of survival and combat. Cate Blanchett (Benjamin Button, Indiana Jones 4) supports as Marissa Wiegler, a tenacious CIA agent looking for many years as to the whereabouts of Erik, whom we come to learn is a rogue agent himself, and the girl. The girl thinks she's ready for the mission -- to assassinate their pursuer -- and soon she's picked up and whisked away to an underground CIA bunker.
Seth Lochhead's screenplay had buzz for years before its 2011 release, shaped by David Farr. The storytelling elements are terrific in not revealing anything more than we need to know until the right time, adding a sense of mystery and intrigue as to the motivations of the main characters. Joe Wright films with a deliberate mix of adventure and coming-of-age storyline, with bursts of exciting action at just the right moments to bring a dose of excitement and pay-off to the slow build of tension and characterization. An escape from a hidden fortress puts Hanna in the exact opposite of the sparse, isolated, frozen forest of Finland into the dense, populous, sweltering climate of Morocco, where she struggles to adjust -- she doesn't even know what electricity is...or what music sounds like. But the most difficult adjustment is when she stows away with a traveling bohemian British family, where she learns for the first time what being is such a family is like, and the childhood and its concerns she was denied all along.
The locale work shift between Europe, Africa and Asia, each distinctively adding to the surreal odyssey of a girl on a mission to thwart her father's pursuers and avenge the murder of her mother -- or so she's been told. The Chemical Brothers' score pumps out the energy and atmosphere in perfect synch with the sometimes surreal, sometimes abstract way that the story develops. The vibe is both realistic and artificial, telling its story without having its heroine to anything that is above and beyond the pale of plausibility, while also tossing in an inordinate amount of allusions to Grimm's Fairy Tales ('Red Riding Hood' in particular) that fills the film's blanks in the same way that impressionable children do, imagining the world around them with the possibility of witches and wizards, and the dreams, nightmares and fancies their active minds generate. Some allusions play almost as in-jokes, such as the henchman character of Isaacs, whom is introduced providing a presentation of Snow White at a gentleman's club, whistling as he does his dirty work, Dwarf style. A dilapidated amusement park, featuring both the wondrous and frightening, in Germany supplies the film's fitting metaphor-rife climax.
At its heart, Hanna is a Tom Tykwer-ish chase thriller with more style and mystery than most, offering up a uniquely refreshing and decidedly European art-house atmosphere to keep it from succumbing to standard action fare. All would be for naught if not for the terrific performance turned in by Ronan, already an Oscar nominated actress in her young career, who succeeds in being both invincible and vulnerable, both savvy and naive, both wise and ignorant, both cold and sympathetic, all at the same time. Blanchett also impresses as the Southern woman, both reassuring and menacing, a master of manipulation and misdirection that leaves many of the story elements in question, and there's even a revelation that encroaches on the revelatory suggestion that the roles of good guys and bad guys may be reversed, though Hanna's life of isolation and ignorance could not possibly have shown her the total picture.
There are a few loose ends the film never ties up, but one might even envision the possibility of a sequel, perhaps with a new set of characters and circumstances. In this era of superhero films and humans with the ability to fight in superhuman style, its a unique change of pace to bring the narrative to the literate, and not sacrifice any cool points by avoiding the gratuity. By the end, its standard plotline is hardly worth remembering, but, like those time-honored tales of fantasy we all heard in our youths, it is the imagery that leaves an indelible impression.
©2011 Vince Leo