Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Vicky Krieps, Cate Blanchett
PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)
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Few directors can move so easily between genres. Joe Wright’s first two big screen efforts, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement are period dramas while his third, The Soloist is a feel good modern drama about overcoming personal obstacles. With Hanna, Wright has shifted into a new medium, frenetic action drama. And the results are quite impressive.
Part of an experimental program, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is faster, stronger and more capable than most 16-year-olds her age. Raised by her father in a subarctic forest far from prying eyes, Erik (Eric Bana) has gone to great lengths to develop Hanna’s more cunning qualities, turning her into an effective killing machine. However, trapped in isolation with only a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to escape with, Hanna’s loneliness is matched only by her ruthlessness. The film opens as she takes down a large caribou with bow an arrow. While cutting away its entrails, Erik gets the drop on her before she whips around and takes him to task with a quick array of fighting moves that leave her in control and with the option of snapping his neck. When she’s ready, he will release her so that she may complete her task and later rendezvous with him at a now-abandoned amusement park in Germany.
She declares herself ready and is quickly taken into custody by a large team of special forces who bring her back to a sub-Saharan military facility where she asks to speak with her intended target, Marissa Weigler (pronounced with the German ‘V’). Weigler (Cate Blanchett) sends a decoy in at first, knowing full well the capabilities this young girl might possess, but is ultimately shocked by the ease with which Hanna kills her target. She then leads the facilities guards on a fast-paced chase through the maze of corridors within the facility until she manages to escape into the Moroccan desert. Once free, she meets a tourist family traveling across Africa and Europe. This family represents the perfect ideal of what she had hoped to one day have. Mother (Olivia Williams), father (Jason Flemyng) and their two children Sophie (Jessica Barden) and Miles (Aldo Maland) treat her like one of their own, forming a bond that could last a lifetime where Hanna not a girl on the run.
Ronan is demonstrably one of this generation’s best young actresses. Doing tremendous work with such films as Atonement and The Lovely Bones and being one of the few passable things about the otherwise execrable City of Ember, Ronan has the unerring sense of a seasons actor. She takes the cool calculation of her Atonement performance and mixes it with the vulnerability on display in Lovely Bones and then supercharges it with a visceral ruthlessness as Hanna. Where this talented young woman goes next is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t doubt if more challenging and rewarding roles are in her future.
And what better actress to put Ronan with than Blanchett whose own career is resplendant with exemplary work. And like Ronan, she is often the most excellent thing in some of the worst films in which she stars. Here, she manages to take a back seat to Ronan, recognizing the need to downplay her own talent in order to allow her co-star the ability to shine. Her southern accent is a bit too affected in places, but there’s no denying the relish with which she attacks this villainous part. That Bana even manages to hold his own here is surprising considering his inability to connect with lackluster performances in the films Hulk, Troy and Star Trek. Still, it’s a testament to Wright’s ability with actors that Bana comes out so well.
Even though I would love to say that Ronan is the ostensible star of the film, there is one element here that even outshines her. The sound design is absolutely brilliant. Blending the eclectic score of The Chemical Brothers with various artificial sounds creates an unmistakable background character for the film. The subterranean escape scene is so enthralling aurally that you can’t help but get pulled into the narrative. Then, the creepy score resurfaces in a later scene with morally bankrupt assassin Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his two skinhead associates as he’s casually tossing a steel bar in the air and catching it, driving home just how twisted the film has become, yet feeling perfectly credible.
Some fairly traditional narrative conventions are woven into Hanna‘s bountiful visual style. You know precisely where each scene will lead and what the ultimate finale will resemble. Some of the dialogue is a bit inauthentic, but the overall structure, pace and design of the film more than makes up for its glaring deficiencies.
Despite the film’s PG-13 rating, this is not a film for the squeamish or the young. The violence is frequently suggested and not visualized, but it’s disturbing enough to put off a number of more delicate viewers. Yet, I must commend Wright for not focusing on the lurid, keeping much of the violence of screen. This enables the audience to key into the interpersonal dynamics of the characters and ultimately develop a manner of compassion for most of them. Hanna is a film that needs to be seen. Whether you’re interested in great performances, great music or tense action, the film succeeds where many others fail.
April 10, 2011