In a different time the Grimm brothers would have written a movie like Hanna. We are presented with an ostensible spy thriller. Instead, what director Joe Wright really serves us is a violent fairy tale in the Teutonic mold, inhabited by big bad wolves, gingerbread houses, and a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers. OK, maybe the music isn’t so Grimmly Germanic, but I don’t know if an audience could ask for more out of an action movie.
Though we don’t know why or how, we understand right away what Hanna, the person not the title, is. The first scene shows her kill and elk, skin it, and then fend off an adult attacker. Gradually the film reveals why the young protagonist (Saoirse Ronan: don’t ask me what the hell kind of name that is. I’m guessing Irish even though it sounds like something from a Robert E. Howard story) and her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) live alone in a cabin deep in snowy woods, training day after day in CQC combat, languages, and marksmanship. Eventually, Hanna tells her father she is ready. The audience isn’t given much time to ponder or theorize as to what the young girl is ready for, since she soon activates a beacon and summons the gaze of the CIA down upon the little cabin. Heading the government’s efforts to capture Heller, who it appears is a rogue agent, is the wicked stepmother of the tale, agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Without venturing into spoiler territory, let’s just say father and daughter split up and blaze twin paths of dead agents and thugs as they head for their rendezvous point, always hounded by Wiegler and her henchmen.
Of course, there is much unspoken history in the film, especially between Wiegler and Heller, but thankfully Wright focuses on Hanna’s story. The poor girl basically gets a crash course in childhood and growing up, after having missed out on kissing boys and friendship bracelets living in the arctic woods since forever. In her travels she meets an itinerant family of British people (I’ll keep my comments to myself) who provide our little killer with insight into the dynamics of a “real” family, which coincidentally aren’t too idyllic.The film also plays with themes related to family and gender structure, female/female relationships etc. Unfortunately, going more in depth would spoil some plot details….The film is very good at raising questions, even by providing answers. All we get is Hanna’s viewpoint, which constructs a limited picture of the overall tale, but getting spoon fed exposition is no one’s past time. The thrill is in the conjecture. Why does Hanna physically resemble Wiegler so much? We are told who the girl’s real mother is, but then again, CIA agents can lie, can’t they?
Ronan is good in the titular role, and lends a believable innocence to the slaughtering machine that is our teenage protagonist. You may remember this young talent from her turn as the hateful little girl in Atonement. In her newest film, she looks just as at-home boding with a new girlfriend as she does slicing up an attacker with a knife. Bana is very good as her father/drill sergeant. He trains his daughter harshly, without reprieve, but he also displays discomfort when describing sexual topics to his young ward. He seems unsure whether to view Hanna as a weapon or a daughter though he does his best to treat her as both. He is almost this tale’s Woodsman. Blanchett is amazing as the aseptic villainous agent, who uses and disposes of anything in her path she deems appropriate without a second thought. Basically, the perfect woman. But we don’t need to delve into my personal psychological weirdnesses…She is cold; she is emotionless….but is she? So much is unsaid, so much is implied by her delivery. True, she is merciless in her pursuit of Erik and Hanna, but given all her efforts, it can’t all be just business, can it? Blanchett gifts a surprising depth to what could have been a weak, one-dimensional baddie.
The film is pretty, visually. It plays a lot with fairy tale motifs, and the imagery is solid, if sometimes a little too obvious. You’ll know what I mean when you see Agent Wiegler step out of a wolf’s open maw at a theme park later on in the film. The cutting and scene transitions tend to get choppy in parts, but it’s an “indie” production, baby. That jazz comes with the territory.
The action is a dance. It is not giant gears imperceptibly moving around up in the air while s♥♥t blows up around them. It is not Matt Damon rolling up a magazine and slapping a dude to shaky cam. Hanna’s action features choreography, progression, and a still camera. The cutting can get a bit hectic in some of the chase scenes, as mentioned above, but nothing in our impermanent realm is perfect. We can forgive the film small faults. Probably most importantly, the action is slave to the story, and not vice-versa. Dialogue is not merely empty filler between explosions, and the fights serve as spikes in plot progression. I realize the title pokes fun at the killing, but the death count is really quite mild for an action film. Armies of bad guys aren’t killed just because it’d be cool. Every fight and death has a reason for being. The chase/fight scene between Hanna and her effete yet scary German pursuers should be taught at film school. It’s got a tense-and-release structure that gets your heart pounding, and your fingers snapping to the mad techno beats, which are perfectly synced to the action. Which brings me to my next point….
The film’s sound design is dope, yo; ridiculously good. Only Tron: Legacy comes to mind as anything that could rival Hanna in this department. Hmm….both feature music composed by established electronica duos…wow, that’s a lot of ellipses…ahem, so the music is very good.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. Hanna features tight action, a focused plot, cool imagery, and even cooler music. It’s already out on video/dvd/blu-ray/free on the internets, so get out there and see it.