A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2011

Rank:  #13

HANNA jjjj

2011, PG-13, 111 mins.


Hanna: Saoirse Ronan / Erik: Eric Bana / Marissa: Cate Blanchett / Sophie: Jessica Barden / Isaacs: Tom Hollander / Rachel: Olivia Williams / Sebastian: Jason Flemyng

Directed by Joe Wright / Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr.

I have seen many examples of the assassin suspense thriller, but HANNA is a whole other breathlessly original and fearlessly idiosyncratic breed altogether.  The film not only bursts with a pulsating and exhilaratingly energy and style, but it also manages to be a darkly offbeat conglomeration of fairy tale motifs, the mainstream accoutrements of the hitman genre, and a European art house aesthetic sensibility.  HANNA is as morally dark and convoluted as it is compellingly allegorical: Exceedingly few examples of the genre are able to generate worthwhile comparisons to film thrillers like THE PROFESSIONAL and the JASON BOURNE series while having both the esoteric fingerprints of a Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch.  Beyond that, then there are the literary themes of the Brothers Grimm and Mary Shelley.  That’s a lot of divergent ingredients, but the fact that HANNA homogenizes them so fluidly is to its credit. 

The film – based on a story and screenplay by Seth Lochhead, which he conceived while he was a student in the Writing Program at Vancouver Film School – is another visual triumph for Joe Wright, a unendingly gifted British filmmaker that previously made PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, ATONEMENT, and, most recently, THE SOLOIST.  One thing that I’ve really noticed about the young director is his uncanny command and precision he has with camera setups and compositions: he crafted one of the single greatest tracking shots in movie history during his depiction of war-torn Dunkirk in ATONEMENT and later created spectacular dolly shots of ghettoized city streets in THE SOLOIST.   Few directors with short resumes have such a confident filmmaking dexterity as Wright, and he continues to plead his case for being one of the cinema’s most intriguing visualists in HANNA, where he forges his most exceptionally realized cinematic canvas yet.  

The story, as advertised, concerns an adolescent female assassin, but it should be noted here that Wright does not play up to that element for the sake of cheap, sensationalistic shock value.  Interestingly, he has other motives in mind when it comes to actually commenting on the inherent tragedy of taking a young and developing girl and removing her from all of the normal social interactions she could have had under a normal life if she were not born and raised into an assassin lifestyle.  HANNA is often heart-rending in its portrait of the utter isolation from the outside world that its title character has experienced through most of her life and it creates real interest in her plight: the visual and stylistic pleasures are here in abundance, but Wright wants to tell an emotional story that titillates viewers about the nature of its hero and the journey that she goes on through the narrative.    

Hanna (as played by Saoirse Ronan, a young performer that demonstrated in films like ATONEMENT and THE LOVELY BONES to be an exemplary poised and naturally attuned actress) was born into a world under the most peculiar of circumstances.  Her mother tragically died while still an infant and her father, Erik (Eric Bana, sturdy and commanding) opted to raise his daughter in the near inhospitable snowy terrain of Finland.  Erik’s paternal skills are odd, to say the least: he methodically and oftentimes viciously teaches Hanna how to become an elite killing machine (which are highlighted in the film’s bravura opening sections).  Erik’s path for Hanna is twofold: First, he wishes for her to be so proficient at clandestine killing that she will be ready to infiltrate the outside world.  Secondly, he wants Hanna to be ready for his ultimate end game: infiltrate a top secret and well guarded U.S. governmental base to locate and eradicate Marissa Wiegler (played with a snarled and venomous antagonistic perfection by Cate Blanchett), the woman that was primarily responsible for Hanna’s mother’s death.  After the “witch” is dead, Hanna is to meet back up with her father in Berlin, but Erik’s master plan hits some roadblocks, particularly as Hanna is captured by Marissa’s men and then later escapes without completing her mission.  As Hanna escapes into an outside world completely foreign to her, she must evade Marissa’s merciless attempts to capture her while both she and her father attempt to rid the world of her once and for all.   



Without giving away too much that would warrant a spoiler warning, echoes of FRANKENSTEIN reverberate all through HANNA.  She is a figure that is essentially “created” by her father (and via other means I will not mention) to perform unthinkable duties as she is unleashed into a hostile world where she remains displaced because of her inherent differences from other normal girls achieving puberty.  Then there is the literal and emotional trek that Hanna goes on through the film that is beset by obstacles that both subtly and obviously hint at Grimm fairy tales.   The central mystery surrounding Hanna’s background and the rationale for her rather atypical upbringing by her father are dealt with gradually as the narrative progresses: Much as was the case with ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Wright is compelled to in HANNA to develop a sense of kinship with his intricate female characters.  Hanna may, at face value, be a stoic and teeth-clenched human weapon, but beneath her startling lethality lurks an inquisitive and sensitive soul that desperately searches for answers as to her place in the world. 

As stated, HANNA truly soars on its masterful technical and production values.  Wright and his cinematographer, Alwin Kuchler, bathe the film in cold colors and tones to suggest not only the dreary predicaments of its characters, but also to evoke a sense of dreamlike atmosphere to the proceedings.  Wright also knows intuitively how to use exemplary real world locations (Morocco and Germany for instance) to foster a lush, scenic, and textured backdrop for the story.  Even better is how he creatively envisions the adrenaline pumping, white knuckled action scenes that use a concise sense of lucidity in their choreography.  There is one marvelous sequence that shows Bana’s Erick walking down to a train platform and concludes with him ruthlessly dispatching with several assailants, all seemingly being done in one long take and not in a multiple of seizure-inducing, multi-second cuts.  Accenting on the visceral mayhem is the bombastic, stomach thumping, and deliciously base-centric electronica toned score by The Chemical Brothers, which only further emphasizes the film’s sense of chaos, uncertainty, and exuberant pacing.     

The performances are all collectively invigorating as well.  Eric Bana is not only a commanding physical presence, but he also craftily suggests a nurturing and caring paternal figure to Hanna despite his uncompromisingly harsh upbringing of his daughter.  Cate Blanchett - with a Texas-twang, steely eyed malice, and cunning perseverance - seems to be having considerable fun while totally immersing herself to play an all out villain with dark motives.   Tom Hollander has a small, but pivotal role as a right hand man to Marissa that looks like he just stepped out of a country club, but underneath that yuppie façade lurks an appallingly pitiless, joy-whistling killer.  He brings a sense of uneasy and sickening menace all through the scenes he’s in with a real performance economy.   

Lastly, there is Ronan herself in the title role, and there are not many actresses as young as her that create such a beguiling screen presence.  Wright’s camera is absolutely infatuated with her: sporting sinewy and pallid hair, a hauntingly lyrical German accent, and chillingly blue eyes that are impossible to stare away from, Ronan displays so much rawness, confidence, and complete control over all facets of her layered and troubled protagonist.  One thing she does with a razor sharp precision is how well she uses stillness to imply both her role’s innocent insecurities and caged animalistic ferocity as a killer.   I’ve seen other young actresses play ethically thorny assassin roles before (Natalie Portman in THE PROFESSIONAL and Chloe-Grace Morentz in KICK ASS), but not many are as raw and authentic as Ronan is here.  The humanity she extrapolates from what could have been a one-note and flavorless action figure persona is one of the many elements that allows HANNA to rise far above the rudimentary, dime-a-dozen tableau of so many other unremarkable spy/chase thrillers.  The film is a much-needed heart-starting hypodermic needle to the genre that desperately needs to be re-awakened from lethargy. 

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