Director Joe Wright has finally proved he’s a force to be reckoned with. Atonement was undercut by a poor script and his direction on The Soloist overpowered the story and the performances, but with his latest film Hanna, he finally strikes an impressive balance and transforms a standard revenge flick into an effective and surreal dark fairy tale that punches the landscape almost as hard as its protagonist punches her foes. Hanna is a film that defiantly and confidently plays by its own rules and the result is an action flick that is as thoughtful as it is exhilarating.
16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been brought up in the forest by her former black-ops father Erik (Eric Bana) and trained to accomplish one purpose: assassinate Erik’s former handler and his wife’s killer, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Hanna can speak a variety of language and kill you eight times with her bare hands before you hit the ground in a crumpled heap, but she’s never heard music or even met another human being other than her father. It’s with this limited but distinct set of skills that Hanna is sent out into the world to kill Marissa. However, Hanna comes to discover that her upbringing isn’t the only thing about her that’s abnormal.
On the page, Hanna could have been a fairly forgettable action-revenge flick, but Wright imbues the entire film with a dreamlike sensibility that adds weight to the proceedings. Everything in the picture is slightly askew and provides immediacy to Hanna’s offbeat coming-of-age tale. There’s no reason why Ronan and Bana should talk in German accents or why Blanchett should put on such an overbearing Southern drawl, but these slight affectations add up to a film that refuses to exist solely in the realm of reality or fairy tale. Wright understands that if he’s going to have Hanna running through an endless series of tunnels in an underground prison that apparently only houses her, then “gritty” realism simply isn’t worthy of the story he’s trying to tell.
However, Wright never forgets that his picture should also entertain and he devises some truly remarkable fight scenes. Wright lets the physicality of the fisticuffs be perfunctory and efficient (as a father-daughter assassins would be), but lets the cinematography, editing, and the score deliver the intensity of the battles. I rarely advocate for more violence in movies, but Hanna could have used a boost from some added brutality, which would better highlight the juxtaposition of Hanna’s off-kilter innocence and the ruthlessness of her actions. But even confined by a PG-13 rating, Wright manages to convey the essential dichotomy of her move from innocence to experience and still ask the important question of what qualifies as “innocence”.
While the camerawork is incredible (especially a scene involving Erik taking down a group of Marissa’s henchmen), special attention is due to the music provided by the Chemical Brothers. Every year, there are five or six scores that you rush out to buy after seeing the movie and this is one of them. The score dances between the pulse-pounding action to almost mocking Hanna’s unconventional childhood with a playful and melodic theme.
Also worthy of credit is Ronan. Bana and Blanchett provide strong support, but the movie truly belongs to the young actress and she does a tremendous job of balancing her character’s murderous ways with a heartfelt wonder and naivety about the larger world. She completely understands Hanna’s strengths and vulnerabilities and the sympathy she engenders prevents the audience from writing off the character as simply “good”, “evil”, “hero”, or “anti-hero”.
Hanna reminds me of Wayne Kramer’s 2006 action-thriller Running Scared, and I mean that as high praise. Both films successfully take a fairy-tale like narrative and transplant it into a hard-boiled, unrelenting action flick. While Hanna doesn’t deliver the same level of brutality and violence as the R-rated Running Scared, Wright demonstrates that he’s can direct crowd-pleasing action flicks with the same level of thoughtfulness and skill that he’s brought to higher-brow fare.