IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 111 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Hanna is a sixteen year old girl living out in the Finnish wilderness with her father Erik, who’s been training her to be an assassin with an ultimate goal. When Hanna says she is ready, Erik activates a homing beacon, resulting in US marines appearing and capturing Hanna. They take her for questioning at a top secret base, whereupon she asks to see the head of the operation Marissa Wiegler. She’s presented with a double of her, whom she executes, thinking she’s killing Marissa, then after also killing her guards, she escapes. Hanna wants only to reunite with her father, but once outside the base realises she’s in the middle of Morocco, and Marissa is after her….
I remember first hearing about Hanna in 2009, when Danny Boyle was developing a screenplay with Seth Lochhead, but Boyle, as he often does, bailed on a project he wasn’t sure about. The finished screenplay eventually got Joe Wright as a director, something I wasn’t sure about. I loved Atonement, but The Soloist and Pride and Prejudice were just kind of okay to me. Then again, although I do pride myself on having diverse taste, certain things like Jane Austen, I just don’t ‘get’! I needn’t have worried though; Hanna is quite a unique and interesting film. I suppose it could be described as The Bourne Identity meets the Hit Girl subplot of Kick Ass, with maybe a bit of Daryl in there too, but it’s also uniquely its own movie. Perhaps many of the ingredients aren’t too original, but the way they’ve been put together is rather striking. You could call it an action film for the ‘art house’ crowd, or a modern day compendium of various fairytales, and on both counts you’d be partially right, but don’t let either of those two descriptions put you off; the movie is more than that!
The film opens with Hanna shooting a deer with a bow and arrow, then gutting the dead creature, in a beautifully shot sequence set in the Finnish snow rife with symbolism, some of which I didn’t get till later on. Then, with great economy, we are shown Hanna’s bizarre life with her father and even a training montage. Any disturbing elements, for the moment, are removed. Hanna is seen to enjoy her life and her hard work, but then Hanna sees a plane flying overhead, and Erik decides she’s ‘ready’ for whatever it is she is being trained to do. When she supposedly carries out her mission and goes on a lengthy trek, the movie does become a strange kind of action movie, but one that often slows down to give an odd kind of reality to proceedings. Much time is spent showing Hanna trying to fit in to the strange new world she’s found herself in, and there’s an especially long segment showing her spending time with an English family, especially her daughter Sophie. Their brief friendship is rather sweet. I’ve read that some people, probably those who expected a pure action movie from the rather misleading trailer, have got bored with this stuff in the movie, but I rather liked it, partly because, even though there are certainly plenty of exaggerated elements and even some borderline-fantastical ones, these slower scenes helped me believe what I was watching. A great deal of effort has been made for the title character to seem as real as possible, and her reactions to things, from a grotty hotel room to a boy after a kiss, seem very natural, certainly exactly how her character would react.
The action itself is often strikingly filmed; there may not be tons of but I doubt you’ll forget it for quite some time. Each sequence is shot in a different way, and yes, there’s a bit of the old ‘shakycam’/quick cut/close-up stuff which every action director today seems to feel necessary to force upon us, but not very much. There’s a fantastic chase around lorry crates where the combination of the quick but well chosen images [I absolutely adored some shots where you see the villains running after Hanna and she can be seen jumping from crate to crate behind them] and the Chemical Brothers’ music [more on that later] are really quite exhilarating, I felt some of that rush that I feel a great action sequence should give us. Best of all, there’s a wonderful scene where Erik is followed by some villains, and the camera follows him and sometimes turns to show his pursuers, all in one take. Finally he ‘takes them out’ with some Jason Bourne-style moves, and still this is one take. This kind of filming, the type that used to be practiced by directors such as Brian De Palma, isn’t seen much today amidst all the MTV style stuff that is everywhere, so hurray for Joe Wright! I will say that many scenes would probably be quite ordinary if it wasn’t for the way they were filmed, and I would have preferred a more interesting climax, but Wright seemed more interested in the location of the sequence, a park with a fairytale house, and the symbolism and references that come with it.
There are indeed tons of allusions in this movie and I found some of them rather heavy handed, for instance you have Marissa the villainess emerging from the head of a large model wolf! I was more impressed with the way the script steadfastly refused to give much away on things like the backstory, something which was supposedly Wright’s doing. Apparently he chipped away at the original script, making things far more oblique. I was expecting a certain revelation towards the end, but it didn’t come – yet I still feel there were hints to its possibility. This approach seems to have been criticised too, but I really liked it, because it treats the viewer as an intelligent person capable of making up his or her own mind. Overall the script is strong and I especially liked the way it avoided sentiment, yet still ended up being quite touching at times. Now there is a very dark and twisted aspect to the story, and I would have perhaps preferred the movie to have gone into that element a bit, rather than whitewashing everything, it would have seemed more honest. I’m also unsure about the current vogue for very young heroines who can kick spectacular ass in a very exaggerated version of female empowerment, but there’s no doubt that Hanna is a great movie character, someone who I think could be the subject of sequels given proper handling.
Right after Atonement I though Saoirse Ronan was an extraodinary little actress, and, though The Lovely Bones [which I actually liked] didn’t meet with a very good reception, I doubt anyone could criticise Ronan in it, in what was a very difficult role. Her snub by the Academy was criminal. Here, she has another very difficult role, but plays it perfectly, very subtly getting the pathos of Hanna and somehow convinces that she could break a person’s neck and dispatch several guards in a few seconds. She’s absolutely mesmerising, though I will say that she has a slightly ‘haunted’ look that is perhaps most appropriate to bizarre characters/situations. I hear she’s probably starring in The Host, which is from a Stephanie Meyer book, and I think it’ll be the worst possible thing for her [if you’re reading this Saoirse, DON’T DO IT!]. Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are okay in their roles though Bana sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger at times, which sadly almost made me laugh, while Blanchett plays it very hammy, obviously her choice but a bit out of synch and I don’t think she’s that good at this kind of role [see also Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull]. ar better is Tom Hollander as the perverse killer Isaacs, he’s blackly humorous but still scary and hints at things a ‘12A’ rated film couldn’t show. Now I expected the soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers to be strictly average after the disappointment of Daft Punk’s work on Tron: Legacy, but it’s actually very impressive, with some wonderful pieces that function both as great dance or ambient tracks and also descriptive scoring, especially during the action scenes. In most aspects, Hanna far exceeded my expectations, it makes things which have perhaps been done to death seem new and fresh again, and that’s a pretty great achievement considering almost everything now seems to have been done before!