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Hanna (2011)

April 10, 2011

written by: David Farr & Seth Lochhead
produced by: Leslie Holleran, Marty Adelstein, & Scott Nemes
directed by: Joe Wright
rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)
111 min.
U.S. release date: April 8, 2011
All I knew about “Hanna” was that she was a teenager trained in seclusion by her father to be a lethal weapon and now she has been unleashed on the world. From that description as well as the trailer, it wasn’t hard for me to be sold and eagerly await such a film. Knowing that this was coming from director Joe Wright, who has given us strong females roles in his adaptation of literary works, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, I became all the more curious. What would Wright’s foray into action be like? Well, the wait is over, Hanna is here. But watch out, blink and you’ll miss this feral wild child and her piercing blue eyes.

We meet her in the cold and dense Finnish forests as she hunts and kills a moose with a bow and arrow. And then BAM….she’s dead, or at least that’s what her father Erick (Eric Bana) informs her as he creeps up from behind and engages her in hand to hand combat. He has raised Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) with an “Adapt or Die” mantra as if he is preparing her for some kind of ultimate life or death confrontation. Indeed, that is the case.  In their woodsy gingerbread house, Erik has homeschooled Hanna in the ways of science, mathematics and geography, yet strangely she has not heard music and she is awestruck as airplanes soar above their home.



There is an understandable bond between father and daughter, yet also an eery feeling that lingers as we take all this in. The whole situation of seclusion and selective programming brings to mind, the Oscar-nominated Greek film “Dogtooth”, where parents are dealing with three precocious twentysomething children who’ve been kept home their entire life. Like those children, Hanna has been told and taught only what her parent feels she needs to know. In “Dogtooth” the results are frighteningly disturbing, yet here the motives of the father are made more clear which includes the audience, keeping them all the more attentive. You’ll be curious as to how this is all going to play out, because you’re in on it.
Just like every parent comes to realize, Erik knows his girl must grow up. And after fifteen years, it is now time.  He has told her in detail about Marisa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a determined CIA head who killed her mother and will do the same to Hanna. Now, he presents her with a choice. All she has to do is flip a transmitter switch and a signal will alert Marisa and her goons to their location. This will change Hanna’s world forever, and thinking like a teen who is ready to take on the world, the switch is flipped.
Both take off in separate directions, with a address in Germany planted firmly in place for a rendezvous. Erik is going back into a world he knows full well, while Hanna is blown away by all she is about to see. Both will be pursued and will be forced to fight against life threatening situations. Both paths are intriguing and soon it becomes clear that this is a story told with little room for gray areas, it nevertheless will find the audience eagerly anticipating every move.    
HANNA Eric Bana
At first, Hanna is captured and contained by the CIA but drawing upon her mantra, that is short-lived and she escapes (with her file, of course), finding herself in Morocco.  It’s fitting that the first people she encounters (other than her captors) are two children, the older of which is Hanna’s age. Sophie (Jessica Barden) is with her British family, who are on a hippy family vacation and takes Hanna in. The mouthy teen is as curious as Hanna is, wanting to know who she is and where she’s from. Hanna tells Sophie’s mother (Olivia Williams) that her own mother is dead and when she asks the cause of death, Hanna blankly replies without a beat, “Three bullets”.  It’s the kind of direct answer you get from one who scores high on intellect and action and low on tact and social skills.
Meeting this family may slow the film down a little, yet it is needed. Wright isn’t concerned with a breakneck pace, wanting us to stop with Hanna as she discovers this strange new world. Even as we know there are forces focusing honing in on her, taking a moment with Hanna as she is introduced to family and boys through someone close to her own age and sex, makes for some interesting, even humorous scenes. We never lose sight though of those who would do her harm, such as Sebastian (a scene-chewing Tom Hollander), a disturbing German with oily blonde hair and a penchant for sweatsuits, whom Marisa employs to lead the hunt. With the story being as straightforward as this is, the exciting confrontation between Hanna and Marisa is inevitable and it is one which doesn’t disappoint.
This is a reunion for Ronan and Wright, having previously worked together in 2007’s “Atonement” which earned them both Oscar nominations. With her outstanding performance in that film and her continued standout work since, it’s a no-brainer that Wright would work with her again. But actually, it’s Ronan who sought out Wright after directors such as Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuaron dropped out. It must have been an enjoyable project for Wright to break away from what audiences have come to expect from him and go loose with this storybook-meets-spy storyline. From start to finish, it’s a film that looks and sounds like everyone is having fun here and giving it their 100%.
With this being her first film to carry, Ronan immediately pulls us in and effortlessly takes captive our attention. She conveys an appropriate blank slate and emotional distance for Hanna. At times, in her interaction with others, she almost comes across like a strange alien who has just landed. As everything from electricity to kissing is entirely new to her, such a portrayal makes sense. Physically, Ronan owns the role. That is mainly due to the expressive way in which she responds to the situations she’s in. Yes, she can believably kick butt as Hanna (and likely take out both Hit-Girl and Jason Bourne), but with her straw blonde hair flowing behind her as she moves with determination and zero reservation, she exudes a feral ferocity that is unparalleled. Some young actors just have it. They project an inner knowledge of the craft as well as a maturity to transform into whatever role they commit to. Ronan is such an actor. 

In the two supporting roles, Bana and Blanchett are superb. These are broad roles that don’t offer much in nuance and development, but it doesn’t matter because of what these two bring to the characters.  As Erik, Bana plays a man who must be forthright and extremely methodical, but even he can see that there are things in this world he can’t protect his child from. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bana take such an action-heavy role, and he really sells it here. Especially while on the run and specifically when we seem him go nuts on some opponents in a subway station. Thankfully, Wright chooses to allow the camera to flow with the blunt action, instead of giving into any CGI or fancy slo-mo shots.  
HANNA Cate Blanchett
Blanchett is a real treat to watch here, sinking her pronounced fake teeth and accentuating a strange Southern accent, she delivers both humor and menace at the same time. Her character isn’t a physical match for the formidable duo, but her history with them remains a very real threat.   
The Chemical Brothers provide the score and they are as integral a part of the film as crafty cinematographer Alwin H. Kuhler (who also worked on Boyle’s “Sunshine”). Giving a propelling, beat-heavy sonic progression that sends the characters careening into each other, it also provides a consistent chiming lullaby-like theme for Hanna that is integrated throughout. The Brothers also combine the sounds of inanimate objects like light fixtures and industrial fans, seamlessly include them into their synth-heavy sounds, creating mysterious crescendos and an aural cacophony. Like recent scores from Daft Punk and Trent Reznor, this is a soundtrack that stands out. One that will buzz in your heard and put a bounce in your step on the way out of the theater.
On that note, see this in a theater. From the blindingly stark winter whites that opens the film with to the surreal landscape of a dilapidated amusement park in Germany, Wright gives us visuals that demand to be seen on the big screen.
It’s being said that “Hanna” is a modern culmination of Grimm fairy tales. That didn’t strike me right away, but after thinking about it, I can see the resemblance to Rapunzel (a girl raised in seclusion trained to believe a certain way) and Sleeping Beauty (a girl awakens from a spell to a foreign world). But you’d have to merge such tales with the frenetic pace of “Run Lola Run” and the frenzy of the Jason Bourne films.
Considering all of that, I would call this an exhilarating fantasy thriller that has no time to stop and answer your questions. It’s not even a consideration. Sure, the script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr is leaving details out, but what stands out more is the engaging characters and entrancing visuals that we’re exposed to. Usually I may want a little more background information and maybe even more development, but in this case I was completely satisfied with surreal amalgamated acid trip.   
 RATING: ***1/2


3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 1:19 am

    Extremely excited to see this. Let down. Weak script. Lots of good stuff otherwise, but with a flawed script, who cares? Not me.


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