A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2011
2011, PG-13, 111 mins.
2011, PG-13, 111 mins.
Hanna: Saoirse Ronan / Erik: Eric
Bana / Marissa: Cate
Blanchett / Sophie: Jessica Barden / Isaacs: Tom Hollander / Rachel:
Williams / Sebastian: Jason Flemyng
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.