– Summary –
Director : Joe Wright
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Martin Wuttke.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: Trained as an assassin since childhood, Hanna has a mission to find and kill a Federal agent on the order of her father. Pursued across Africa and Europe, Hanna must stay one step ahead of the hunt in order to complete her mission, and find her way back to her father.
What we think : Top notch thriller from Atonement and Pride & Prejudice director Joe Wright, who delivers both the emotional depth and ass-kicking action beats to make this film a surprising success. A simple story, with rounded and real characters, as well as a wide-eyed innocence from Ronan in the lead role, make Hanna an action film worth venturing into.
I just missed your heart. The first words uttered by Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan, in this film, are both eloquent and misleading. A statement like that automatically causes one to ask the question “did she miss on purpose?”, and while I sit here having just completed my viewing of the film, I can’t help but think that perhaps she did just that. Hanna isn’t a film easy to categorize. It’s an action film, sure, and at the center of it is a wide-eyed innocent girl, trained for years to be an assassin, to hunt down and kill a target specified by her father. However, her journey is less about the killing and more about the journey, as she makes her way into a wide world of which she has no comprehension. She has mad skillz, sure, but she wouldn’t know a television from a bread roll, so the incongruity of her circumstances make for fascinating viewing. Hanna is also a drama, of sorts, as well as a slow-burn thriller to boot. But it’s not your typical shoot-’em-up action thriller, not by any stretch. Where Hanna works so wonderfully well is in its little character moments, moments most auto-tuned Hollywood genre flicks often skip past to get to another ‘splosion. Is Hanna worthwhile as a film – I say yes, although there’s probably plenty of reason why some folks, some weird, deranged and loony folks, might disagree.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan – apparently it’s pronounced serr-sha, like “inertia”) is a young girl living in the arctic circle with her father, Erik (Eric Bana), who is hiding out from CIA Agent Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett) for reasons unknown. Erik has trained Hanna to be an assassin since she was two, and one day offers her the chance to return to the real world to complete her mission – to kill Weigler. After escaping capture in Morocco, Hanna treks across Africa and into Europe with a family on holiday, befriending the young daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden). Weigler sends another CIA operative into pursuit, Isaacs (Tom Hollander, best known as the conniving Cutler Beckett from the first two Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels, and as Mr Collins in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice), a man with less dress sense than a heroin addicted chicken. As the net closes on Hanna and Erik, the showdown between them and the evil Weigler draws closer.
Had I not checked Wikipedia to find the filmography of Joe Wright, I’d never have picked him as the guy behind the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice – that film and this one are seemingly cut from a different cloth… at least narratively. There’s plenty of Wright touches here as well; prolonged tracking shots for example, are a primary example of one of Wright’s predilections behind the camera, and he delivers on that once more. For a man more attuned to dramatic films and talky gabfests, I’d hardly have pinned Hanna down to his soft hand of class. Joe Wright delivers a decent action film, I must say. While the film does tend to fall into the occasional lull between action beats, the tension of each pursuit, each gunfight, each evil movement of Cate Blanchett as Weigler, builds this film up to its inevitable climax of the showdown between the title character and the central villain. Some may accuse the film of straying too readily into character development at the expense of excitement, but I tend to favor this over shallow, derivative explosions and generic, bland characters. Hanna is a complex little girl – and I use that term lightly, because she kicks all manner of ass in this. The script, from David Farr and Seth Lochhead, tries to deliver more characters and emotional development than a film like this has any right to expect, and while I think for the most part they’ve succeeded, Hanna will infuriate traditionalists in the action genre because there are large gaps of slowly paced character bonding moments – especially between Hanna and Sophie. If there’s any weakness to the film at all, it’s the haphazard emotional beats the film tries to inject into its otherwise lean, mean plot.
Wright opens the film with a bang, or at least with a great set up of Hanna and Erik’s characters’ as they exist in the Finnish hinterland. When the film opens, we’re not sure if we’re in the present day or some sort of period piece, although it soon becomes apparent that modern technology and political leanings exist to place this film in the current context. When Hanna’s captured in the opening twenty minutes of the film, we kinda expect her to cut loose, considering the experience and techniques Erik has taught her – and Wright delivers, in an extended escape sequence involving some cool fight moments from the seemingly innocuous Ronan. After this bravura sequence, however, the film does slow somewhat to allow the plot to develop, and its here that Hanna goes from outright action film to a more espionage-y thriller. The involvement of Weigler, as part of the CIA, gives this film the underlying “hidden secrets” flavor a thriller needs, including pointers to Hanna’s past, Erik’s motives, and Weiglers ultimate plan for the pair of them. Unlike a Bourne film, however, Ronan as Hanna never once strays into the superhuman, at least not initially. Hanna can be beaten, although she’s got some mighty impressive madd skillz to accompany that lithe frame and innocent face. Wright keeps the pace moving pretty quickly during the action/plot moments, although he does dwell on the beauty shot occasionally a little too long – a scene with Hanna and Sophie sleeping out in Sophie’s tent is particularly beautiful, and somewhat creepy in it’s subtle erotic subtext, yet we don’t ever feel betrayed with our own feelings towards the young girl.
Saoirse Ronan portrays Hanna with a seemingly effortless ease, and although initially it’s quite jarring to see her kick ass when she’s required, by the end of the film you can actually believe she’s capable of killing grown adults in much the same way Hitgirl could in Kick-Ass. Ronan’s wide-eyed beauty belies her hard-as-steel internal fire, the kind of mixture what made Angelina Jolie so awesomely hot in her action films before she did Tomb Raider 2. Not that Ronan is anywhere near the screen presence of Jolie, at least not yet, but if she keeps picking up these quirky, unique roles (she knocked it out off the park in Atonement, and was the shining light in Peter Jackson’s otherwise forgettable The Lovely Bones), she’s going to have a long career ahead of her. Her on-screen father, Eric Bana, is as intense as required for his rather rote role of the desperate father, while Blanchett has a ball playing her conniving, contemptible Bad Girl character, striding through each of her scenes with a surprising ferocity. Her character is quite loathsome, although I wonder if any other actress could have given her the underlying humanity (or, rather, lack thereof) she seems to possess. The surprise packet here is Jessica Barden as Sophie, the fast-talking teen girlfriend Hanna has as she travels across Africa. Barden gives Sophie the wily wise-ass teen-speak that drives most adults crazy these days, although her parents (played by Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams) are as hippie as they come anyway, so it’s really no surprise. Barden’s tough exterior and ability to portray an inner weakness is on par with Ronan’s less erudite Hanna.
Even if the plot or characters don’t do it for you, there’s no denying this is a beautifully shot film. Cinematography, be it in the dusty brown hues of Africa, the grimy, constructed monotony of backyard Berlin, is excellent across the board, and the use of lighting and framing in Hanna is wonderful in every scene. DP Alwin H Kichler, whose previous work with Danny Boyle on Sunshine translates across here to the less flashy visuals of a transcontinental thriller with style. The opening Finland-set sequence, with Hanna and Erik living in the snowbound Arctic Circle, is dazzling to witness, and that’s just the start of it. Another aspect of the film which requires your admiration is the score, by British Electro-funk duo The Chemical Brothers. Much like the use of Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy, The Chemical Brothers’ work in Hanna is both unique and decidedly apropos. Their mix of rock synth and poppy funkadelica gives Hanna an edgy, eclectic feel, somewhat echoing the foot-tapping score for The Matrix trilogy, although not quite delivering the same grungy undertones. Hanna’s score is less straightforward, more left-of-centre than a traditional film, and a brave choice from Wright – the choice pays off, however, with a genuinely likeable score throughout the film.
Hanna isn’t your typical chase-action-thriller, in the sense that the identifying characteristics are not always the fight sequences or massive shoot-outs, yet there’s something to be said for a more low-key approach, as Hanna delivers. Directed with a sure hand at action (who’d have thunk it?) by Joe Wright, and featuring yet another luminous performance from Saoirse Ronan (damn, that name drives my spell checker up the wall!), Hanna delivers some genuine thrills and a couple of ballsy, outright classic action sequences. If for nothing else than that, it’s worth a look.