Hanna (*** / ****)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
Director: Joe Wright
(Author’s note: JFC Movies was recently on hiatus since the beginning of April due to an illness in the family, and this film was released during that span. hence this late review. I apologize for the lack of updates in that span. On with the review.)
Hanna can be summed up as an absorbing exercise in frustration. One of the more prominent topics of the ’11 movie season has been female empowerment, but it’s borne more misfires (Sucker Punch, Red Riding Hood) than hits (Jane Eyre). Hanna falls somewhere in between. Director Joe Wright went as far as to publicly dismiss Sucker Punch’s girl-power angle as “marketing bullshit.” Fortunately, Hanna gives him a leg to stand on, as it’s a satisfying movie fueled by the evidence that young star Saoirse Ronan is capable of carrying a production. At the same time, you’re aware that something is lacking that could’ve made it so much more than it was. Not unlike last year’s TRON: Legacy, Hanna , aside from the lead actor, is often overshadowed by the funky techno-music soundtrack (in this case, from British duo The Chemical Brothers).
We first meet the title character (Ronan) killing and gutting a reindeer in the middle of a snow-covered Finland forest. There, she lives in a secluded cabin with her survivalist father, Erik (Eric Bana). His adage is “adapt or die” as he relentlessly trains Hanna to become an assassin, while refusing to expose her to technology and keeping her on her toes with such tactics such as putting a gun to her head in her sleep.
Meanwhile, Erik is the target of rogue CIA agent Marisa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), with whom he himself has unfinished business. He introduces an electronic tracking device to Hanna that will let Marisa know of their whereabouts, inviting her to flip the switch at any time. When she does, Erik disappears but the house is soon swarmed by agents and Hanna is captured.
We then get a good look at her capabilities when she, imprisoned in an elaborate underground interrogation chamber kills someone with her bare hands and proceeds to gun down several of Marisa’s henchmen as easily as if she were firing a pea shooter, then makes her escape. Of course, she’s able to outwit a small army of pursuing captors before breaking out of the facility, hitching a ride under the chassis of a Hummer, and winding up alone in Morocco. Somehow, she has to make it all the way to Berlin and reunite with Erik.
Wright aptly balances the straitlaced and utterly humorless existence of Erik and Hanna, and her freedom enables him to unbutton his collar a little. He livens things up with a goofy British family who happen to be vacationing in Morocco at the time Hanna shows up, and who invite this abandoned youngster to join them on their RV travels. Comic relief ensues, such as when the parents (Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) recoil at her presentation of raw meat for dinner, and in one of the film’s best moments, she comes close to experiencing her first kiss with a young date when her survival instincts suddenly kick in and she knocks him to the ground. This serves a purpose rather than simple fish-out-of-water laughs. Lest we forget, Hanna is experiencing the outside world for the first time after a lifetime of being sequestered from it. Ronan wonderfully plays another brilliant scene in which a kind man provides Hanna with a night’s free shelter, and she experiences sensory assault from a cacophony of noise by all the strange electronic gadgets in her room.
While Hanna actually has a story and none of the cartoonish silliness that derailed Sucker Punch , relaying said story often proves to be a struggle, and it’s inexcusable when a plot hole is required to jumpstart the story. Why would Erik want to reveal his whereabouts to Marisa after having been off the radar for over a dozen years? He could’ve just as easily sneaked back into civilization. This is also yet another action thriller in which just about everyone associated with the protagonist winds up dead. This is telegraphed well in advance, giving us little suspense in return. While I’m not a doctor, suspension of disbelief is required as a character is shot in the abdomen and is still able to climb up a catwalk moments later as if nothing happened. And the body count borders on the ridiculous for a PG-13 film featuring an underage protagonist.
Ronan, a young Irish actress with Nordic facial features to go with an icy-cold stare, makes a believable pint-sized action hero, but it’ll always be strange to me to see children firing guns or beating the stuffing out of people twice their size. (There isn’t even any kickback when she shoots Wiegler’s agents in the interrogation room, which makes her look like she’s merely wielding a water pistol.) This quibble aside, she is definitely someone to watch in the future as she matures. Cate Blanchett is an oddball here, as her deliciously vile Marisa is given a weird fluctuating Southern accent and stiff Frau Farbissima-style suits. Her manic fervor in trying to capture her quarry gives us a bit of obligatory self-flagellation, in this case overbrushing her teeth that it draws blood.
The aforementioned futuristic adrenalin-rush score is definitely a highlight and fits into the film as perfectly as an old shoe, not to mention a smart move as there’s no way a traditional orchestra would work in this kind of picture. The music was the best part of the trailer and its electronic surrealism spices up the action scenes. It’s memorable enough that even a sleazy tracksuited hitman (Tom Hollander) hired by Wiegler can’t help but whistle one refrain intermittently throughout after it’s heard inside a strip club.
As for the ending, it’s underwhelming at best, but redeemed with a visual masterpiece of the inevitable showdown between Hanna and Marisa inside an abandoned German amusement park, a virtually colorless network of tunnels, giant gaping wolf heads and the desolate fiberglass husks of pedal boats, all under a shroud of an overcast sky. Most of us have dreamed about being in a setting like that at some point in our lives, myself included.
© 2011 Jane F. Carlson
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Hanna Director Joe Wright Finds Sucker Punch “Alarming” – New York Magazine, 4/3/11