By Marty Mulrooney
Hanna is a European action thriller directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement), starring Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones), Eric Bana (Chopper, Hulk) and Cate Blanchett (The Lord Of The Rings, Babel). It tells the story of a 16-year-old-girl named Hanna (Ronan), a killer trained from birth by her father (Bana), who is released into the real world after years of living isolated in the snowy wilderness of Finland. Her mission: to find and kill corrupt CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett).
Hanna is a gorgeous film. The snowy Alaskan wilderness is beautiful to behold and director Joe Wright makes full use of this breathtaking initial location. The opening moments show Hanna hunting a deer – bow and arrow at the ready – with limited success. Before long, she is sprawled out beside its corpse, guts spilling out of its stomach in a tangled web to form a dark red blotch upon the pure white snow, the camera panning slowly upwards. There is beauty to be found even in the violence of Hanna’s world.
Hanna is also a film about build-up. Erik Heller, Hanna’s father, is obviously preparing her for something big. She is fluent in several different languages, proficient in hand-to-hand combat, capable with weapons and always sleeps with one eye open. She also reads Brothers Grimm fairytales by candlelight at night, using a photo strip of her dead mother as a bookmark. There is great chemistry between these two characters. Beneath the tough love and obvious affection, there is a yearning within them both to fulfil their destinies and finish what they have started. So one day, Hanna flips a switch and it begins.
CIA agent Marissa Wiegler is a true villain is every sense of the word. There is a constant focus on her teeth, brushed to such extreme lengths that small trickles of red cascade down them at one point, like blood upon fresh snow. She is a wolf, a predator. She wants nothing more than to see Hanna captured and Erik Heller dead. She intimidates merely by walking and talking, her heels clicking like warning shots, her Texan drawl almost too soft for comfort. There is a very fine line between pantomime villainy and genuine dangerousness. In Hanna, Blanchett walks this fine line in great shoes and with a truly wicked smile upon her face. Tom Hollander as mercenary Issacs also deserves special mention, hired to do things Marissa’s agency will not let her do.
After an effective opening, the action moves away from the snowy wilderness to first Morocco and then Berlin. Separated from her father, Hanna sees the modern world for the first time, fascinated by electric lights before becoming completely overwhelmed by a television and a kettle, crippled by sensory overload. She soon befriends a young girl of a similar age named Sophie, travelling with her family towards a secret meeting with her father. This is the only part of the film that drags slightly, however the family are largely played for laughs anyway – one part sees them dancing to David Bowie to show what free spirits they all are – and thankfully, the friendship between the vastly different characters of Hanna and Sophie ends up working very well.
Every single action sequence stands out in Hanna and they are all spaced out enough to impact heavily when they do occur. One particular sequence involving Erik Heller (Bana) is masterfully shot and choreographed, tightly following him across the street and into an underground location, before he takes on several CIA agents at once… all in one shot. Later, Hanna flees through a container park from Issacs and his goons in a chase sequence that rivals some of the best seen within the genre. A 16-year-old-girl taking on multiple assailants to the thumping musical accompaniment of The Chemical Brothers – the British electronica duo provide Hanna’s highly memorable soundtrack – is one of the most visceral, unreal experiences I have had at the cinema in a number of years.
Hanna isn’t anywhere near the perfect film. Based on a spec script, there are numerous plot holes if you look close enough and the core storyline, involving the creation of super-soldiers, is nothing particularly new. However, with Joe Wright at the helm and Saoirse Ronan offering a career defining performance, an otherwise typical action flick takes on an almost otherworldly quality. The inclusion of dark fairytale imagery in the style of The Brothers Grimm is an apt one and The Chemical Brothers offer a perfect musical match: you will likely find yourself whistling ‘The Devil is in the Details’ for days afterwards. A bold, inventive take on the action genre that manages to make substance out of style.
9 OUT OF 10
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