British director Joe Wright’s work had previously been associated with period dramas like “Atonement” and “Pride and Prejudice.” With the engaging, high-octane “Hanna,” he joins the action/thriller category of A-List directors as well.
Starring the mesmerizing Academy Award nominee, Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) as the film’s 16-year-old Hanna, Ronan tackles the complexities of a teenager’s coming of age in a world of government spies and assassins. It’s a wild mix of themes that under Wright’s skilled direction comes off as a pulse-pounding thriller.
“Hanna” opens in the wondrous white snow covered forests of Finland with beautiful white swans and furry foxes. We are quickly introduced to a blue-eyed, blonde wild child, Hanna, who expertly shoots a reindeer with her bow and arrow. As she nears the still living animal, she calmly exclaims, “I just missed your heart,” before coolly killing it. It’s a phrase that will be used again to great affect. Her father, Erik (Eric Bana) teaches Hanna intense physical survival skills to battle something far more dangerous and sinister than these Finnish wilds. (Bana and Ronan trained for weeks under fight coordinator Jeff Imada, and it admirably shows in their numerous fight scenes.)
Totally isolated from the rest of the world, Erik educates Hanna through an encyclopedia and a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But Erik realizes he cannot shelter his daughter from the big, bad world forever and thus gives her a choice to enter civilization, but with a certain risk from a government agency that wants them dead. Hanna chooses civilization.
Wright says his interest in the material was the strong protagonist, Hanna, and the female empowerment angle. He also sparked to the fairy tale themes, which for Wright are not happy, sweet stories, but rather “moral stories about overcoming the dark side.” The elements are certainly there – the widowed father raising a daughter; the wild animals; and Hanna learning to live on her own, which she does when she becomes part of a vacationing, gypsy-like family, with free-spirited mother (Olivia Williams) and father (Jason Flemyng), teen daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden) and young son (Aldo Maland). Wright wonderfully juxtaposes Hanna’s socially awkward initiation to teen culture with Sophie’s sophisticated teen girl’s fixation on make-up, clothes and boys.
Then there’s the fairy tale settings – Finland’s incredible wilderness where father and daughter live in a cabin, and the climatic end location, the overgrown Spree Park, an abandoned amusement park East of Berlin, with decaying dinosaurs and wolves (only Grimm’s Cabin was built for the film).
There’s even a “wicked witch” one could argue in the character of CIA operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett). Hanna’s very existence threatens Marissa’s life and career, and therefore Hanna must be terminated (unless Hanna can do the terminating first). Wright introduces the sterile Marissa from behind, shots of heels tapping the ground as she walks, the back of her coiffed hair; she’s obsessively put together. There are even shots of her brushing her teeth with such determination that her gums bleed.
Wright’s fluid camera covers the action in long sequences as opposed to heavily edited takes. The camera even rotates 360 degrees to foreshadow how Hanna’s world is turning upside down as she escapes the government’s holding tank. Wright also wisely chose the techno group, The Chemical Brothers, to score the film and drive the narrative’s action via pulsating beats and rhythms.
The fairy tale themes, the strong performances and the unique creative elements all under Joe Wright’s tutelage come brilliantly together to create an action adventure film like none other. “Hanna” doesn’t “miss your heart.”
“Hanna” is 111 minutes and Rated PG-13.