Directed by: Joe Wright, Runtime: 100 minutes
Certain things are expected from Hanna, the latest from Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright: a snowy tundra-bound training sequence, a trippy jolt through a flashy industrial tunnel, and a sprint across a cramped metropolitan space. But that's the easier-to-digest action factor, which the film's advertising somewhat erroneously plays up; then, there's an underlying, defiantly indie side that will take some by surprise, where an isolated girl inexperienced to the world's sensory joys screams at a overflying plane, listens to music for the first time by a Moroccan campfire, and lets sunshine and wind wash over her while she's riding in a car. Wright's film looks, moves, and breathes the way you'd expect a kinetic spy-thriller to through the eyes of a competent art-house director, with a flair for original filmmaking -- and an eye for gothic Brothers Grimm-caliber fairytales -- as its guiding force.
There's a reason for the title's simplicity: it's more about the willowy teenage girl at the center than the path that the story takes. Pint-sized powerhouse Saoirse Ronan plays that girl, brought up in the biting cold of Finland under the tutelage of her father, ex-CIA agent Erik Kessler (Eric Bana); she's taught how to shoot, fight, kill and survive in and around a rustic wood cabin that's separated from the civilized world, while she learns how to speak nearly every language and about things like biology and music from dime-store encyclopedias. But all that home-brew education can only go so far, and Hanna can only restrain herself in the cabin for so long. She soon learns she's been in hiding for a reason (one she's unaware of at first), kept away from the clutches of a conniving government operative, Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett), and if she chooses to live a normal life in the open, she's got to get halfway around the world and take out this woman -- who, at the same time, will be alerted to Hanna's presence as soon as she leaves the cabin.
Seth Lockheed and David Farr's free-flowing script centers on that core mystery: why is this girl, who possesses enough strength and skill to drag an elk across a snowy field after she's defeated her father in a sparring match, being kept a secret? Don't worry; any questions over Hanna's capabilities will receive an answer, though it's not a question that Joe Wright intends on exposing through blunt exposition. Instead, he guides us on Hanna's journey -- jolting between the underbelly of an industrial CIA warehouse to the expanses of Morocco and Berlin -- as she learns about the things she's only read about in books, exploring the character's wide-eyed discovery instead of rushing to blossom the seed of mystery. For the first time, Hanna sees the flicker of electricity, hears the twang of music, and even chats with other people (including an affable British family, including a verbose, loose-tongued teenage girl of her age), and we're left intrigued by her smiling, curious, unswerving absorption of the things she's missed out on during her time in "the forest".
Her sensory exposure becomes ours, to which Joe Wright diverts from his rustic period pieces and constructs a modern outside-the-box artistic vision that's unexpected of the action picture it claims itself to be. Much ado has been made about The Chemical Brothers' pulsating score, and it's utterly involving; an onslaught of forceful percussion and rhythm propels the film's active bursts, while delicate sweeps of fluttering chimes and choral vocals guide through Hanna's quieter moments. It's a gorgeously-shot picture as well, by way of Alwin Kuchler's cinematography; the snowy expanses of a frigid European landscape frame Hanna's environment in both beauty and isolation, while the warmth of Morocco and the chilly, misty confines of Berlin maintain a consistent visual mood that mirrors Hanna's. Wright employs these flourishes with a deft eye for consistent pace and momentum, which invokes shimmers of Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth and Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run in the process.
While Joe Wright lets his imaginative flag fly, something that's expected from an art-minded director, he also -- somewhat surprisingly -- knows how to capture the movement and intensity of Hanna's action. Granted, he goes a little overboard with one scene: a flashing, spinning tunnel sequence at the CIA base of operations, though thematically relevant and composed well-enough, feels out-of-place. But the rest of the hand-to-hand combat and foot races are cleanly-edited, pulled back to reveal what's going on, and highly visceral and energetic, showing that the period-piece director can compose scenes of any nature -- no matter if it's intimate drama of violent thrashing. While not persistent, the action delivers fiercely where it needs to. Oddly, the coup de grace isn't involving Hanna, but a masterfully low-key, stringently choreographed tracking-shot involving Erik and a horde of operatives in Germany.
Saoirse Ronan is dead-on as Hanna. Reserved, sinuous, yet carefully warmed when needed, the pale blue-eyed actress gives her an other-worldly essence that befits an untamed yet skilled assassin from the wilderness, while her graceful frame makes it equally as interesting to watch in fight sequences as it is to watch her curious prying. Her rapport with Erik Bana can be brusque, but they play well off each other during intense moments -- especially in a fervent conversation near the film's climax. Bana also handles his bursts of action with aplomb, where he almost sees as much as Hanna. Cate Blanchett, however, is a peculiar addition as Marissa Viegler; she forces a thick southern accent and an overtly devilish persona, though it aligns well with Wright's aims in making her a "wicked witch". You'll also be left curious as to why Marissa has such a melancholy quasi-parental attitude about Hanna, which Blanchette sneakily slips in: is it because of the past that's being drudged up, or something more than that?
Wright skillfully marries action and art-house components into what's ultimately a modern-era fairy tale doubling as a parable of growing up, operating on his own inventive terms as his film stylishly -- and evocatively -- tightrope-walks between realism, whimsy, and a surgically-handled science-fiction element. The fable motifs aren't subtle, though, from Hanna's nook in the snowy forest to her journey to an Austrian-inspired house of magic found at the end of an abandoned, almost Chernobyl-level amusement park. But that blatancy also becomes part of Wright's assertive whimsical expression, captivating to the eyes even as the story weaves through the familiar beats of an action-suspense climax, not unlike the Bourne films. The melding of tones reaches a fever pitch in the final resolute moments that telegraph just the right punch at the end of Hanna, to which Wright has realized a hefty amount of ambition into a satisfyingly vigorous action film with complex, intuitive, and fanciful substance to spare.
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Posted by Thomas Spurlin on 9/24/2011