Director : Joe Wright
Screenplay : Seth Lochhead and David Farr (story by Seth Lochhead)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Eric Bana (Erik), Cate Blanchett (Marissa), Tom Hollander (Isaacs), Olivia Williams (Rachel), Jason Flemyng (Sebastian), Jessica Barden (Sophie), Aldo Maland (Miles), John MacMillan (Lewis), Tim Beckmann (Walt), Vicky Krieps (Johanna Zadek), Christian Malcolm (Head of Ops), Jamie Beamish (Burton), Tom Hodgkins (Monitor), Mohamed Majd (Moroccan Hotel Owner)
In Hanna, British director Joe Wright puts a compelling spin on the conventional action thriller by imbuing the violence with an underlying sense of sadness and pathos. Known primarily for his adaptations of literary romantic dramas such as Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), Wright would seem to be an odd choice to helm an action film, but Hanna is not your typically overedited, hyperkinetic, soulless action romp. Similar to Paul Greengrass’s Bourne films, Hanna is as much about the protagonist’s emotional turmoil as it is about her ability to kill and survive against the odds (although it is no less fantastical in its extremes), with the added twist that she is only 16 years old and has spent most of her life being raised in complete isolation. Thus, her propensity for violence is tempered with the poignancy of her not knowing what music sounds like and never having had a friend.
Hanna is played by Saoirse Ronan, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Atonement and most recently starred in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones (2009). She was an inspired bit a casting because her intense blue eyes are particularly adept at conveying hardened determination, even as her slender body and face convey her emotional fragility. With a wild shock of untamed, white-blonde hair, she at times seems like a wolf child, raised in the wilderness to be always on guard; at other times, though, her youth and inexperience with the world remind us that her ability to kill in so many ways is not a natural part of her being, but rather something that she has learned, almost to the point that it has come to define her very being. She has been taught by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), a former CIA operative who decided to disappear from the life and has been on the lam ever since. He has raised Hanna in the remote wilderness just beneath the Arctic Circle, a harsh environment of perpetual winter that has ensured their secrecy while also encouraging Hanna’s toughness, resilience, and resolve. The ultimate mission is revenge against Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik’s former CIA handler who was directly responsible for destroying Erik’s life, an injury he has not forgotten.
The majority of the film follows Hanna as she moves across Europe after a failed attempt to kill Marissa (she does kill a woman in a holding cell in a secret government facility in North Africa, but it was an confederate). She and Erik plan to meet at a predetermined location in Germany, but getting there requires quite a bit of ingenuity for Hanna since she has had literally no involvement with the outside world beyond what Erik has read to her in books. For much of the journey she hitches a ride with a hippie British family whose mother (Olivia Williams) applauds the idea of Hanna being out on her own while the father (Jason Flemyng), who is clearly the more conservative of the couple, has his doubts. Hanna develops an unlikely friendship with Sophie (Jessica Barden), their status-obsessed teen daughter who is, in every way imaginable, Hanna’s opposite, but perhaps only because of the differences in their backgrounds. Hanna’s interactions with Sophie suggest that they might have been quite similar had Hanna been raised in the pop-culture-saturated modern world.
Working with cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler, who has worked on such disparate films as Lynne Ramsay’s stripped-down kitchen-sink drama Ratcatcher (1999) and Danny Boyle’s sci-fi freakout Sunshine (2007), Wright gives Hanna a compelling visual design that emphasizes long takes and open spaces. In a genre dominated by attention-addled cutting and whip-pan camera movements, Hanna maintains a distinct elegance that imbues its physicality with a weight and character that makes it consistently engaging; it doesn’t encourage you to tune out like so many Hollywood action smashes. When Erik has to take on six government goons in a subway station, Wright shoots the entire fight in a single, fluid take, which emphasizes Erik’s dexterity and physical superiority (it is also, as with such shots, a bit of a show-off, but it works). The gravity of the imagery, which is underscored by the pulsating electronic rhythms of The Chemical Brothers’ impressive musical score, reminds us of the emotional stakes, as well, and Ronan’s performance as Hanna is deeply moving in its conflation of adolescent angst and hardened solidarity. Hanna has its thrilling moments, to be sure, but at its core it is a tragedy, a portrait of the extremes to which some must go in order to survive in a world stacked against them.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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