by NIR SHALEV and HELEN GEIB
Hanna is a first-rate thriller from director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement). It’s the best action/thriller of its kind since The Bourne Identity (2002), mainly because the two Bourne sequels suffer from the “shaky camera syndrome” and are almost impossible to watch. Hanna is a film that’s very easy to watch because it takes its visual cues from expertly made music videos; that’s a compliment. Each shot welds perfectly with the preceding and succeeding ones and the whole film flows like a calm and powerful river.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old who was raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) in the middle of a snowy nowhere (possibly Poland or Russia). She was trained to hunt, to spy, and to kill (and also be aware of everything while asleep) and the main reason behind this is gradually revealed throughout the film, using as little exposition as possible in order to keep the flow of the film moving smoothly. When Hanna decides that it’s time to join the real world, she presses a button on a device that Erik gave her and it allows the CIA to track their whereabouts. Erik departs and leaves Hanna with coordinates as to where she could meet up with him in Germany, and Hanna is purposely captured, momentarily.
Enter Marissa (Cate Blanchett), an agent for the CIA who’d been trying to track Erik for over a decade. She finds out about Hanna and makes Hanna her top priority (I cannot say why) while she still searches the globe for Erik. Hanna easily escapes the CIA facility that she’s held in and meets up with a vacationing British family. She becomes friends with the daughter and, for the first time in her life, experiences friendship, television and other such electronics, electricity in general, and the world outside of her cave.
Marissa hires a trio of creepy Germans to help track Hanna and Erik and the film enters a dimension that’s a mixture of fairytale lore and good ol’ fashioned Hanna-beating-up-everyone-that-she-encounters. There’s a strong emphasis on fairytales in the film, Marissa being the evil Godmother, Hanna trying to reach the Grimm house, etc. but on my initial viewing, I’d turned off the visual symbol and metaphor detector and watched the film for what it is: a really good action/thriller with a killer soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. And yes, there’s a strong brothers motif which works well due to Hanna not having any siblings. It’s not an accident.
All of the performances in the film are good and Ronan is especially terrific. She showcases that she can lead a film, and even an action film. Her face contains a great look of innocence and when combined with dispatching or killing her enemies quickly, she can seem rather creepy. But it’s very effective. Eric Bana is good in every film that he plays, even if the film is terrible (Hulk, Troy). He’s really good here as a man who trained and harbored a 16-year-old killing machine but is even better at portraying the father figure. And Cate Blanchett, like Bana, is terrific in every film that she’s in, too. Here, she’s a terrific villainess who hardly ever blinks and looks like she wants to murder the whole world. She has the glazed look of an eagle watching its prey and she always remains calm; add a smooth Southern accent and we have a remarkably horrific villain. I felt uncomfortable whenever she appeared on screen.
Hanna is a throwback to good filmmaking because its choice of style is that of art-house filmmaking. The camera fluidly moves every-which-way and everything is always in focus, and the editing of the film compliments the (suitable) electronic soundtrack. The Bourne Identity mixed in with music from a rave actually works rather well together when the film isn’t entirely based on planet Earth. There is a definite alternate universe in which this film exists (most notably when Hanna reaches Germany) and it’s the reason why the film works so well.
Hanna is a source of entertainment that’s never dull and lacks a blockbuster budget, which is a good way for filmmakers to open up their abilities to make a film using skills rather than money invested in CGI. This is a film that’s not to be missed in the theaters because of its flow, its rhythm, and its execution. And Ronan will only get more interesting as an actress from here on. Truly, I can’t wait.
3 1/2 stars
To no-one’s surprise, it is eventually revealed that Hanna is the product of a black ops CIA experiment in genetic manipulation. The cliched plot “twist” would be tiresome in the extreme if it wasn’t entirely unimportant. None of the “whys” matter; why they’re after her, why she’s unnaturally strong, why she was hidden away in a frozen wilderness. Any such prosaic explanations are little more than a sop to the literalists.*
Hanna simply is: special, imperiled, innocent. She is not a product of science, nor does she exist in our reality. When the waif-like Hanna pulls out a cherished children’s illustrated book of Grimm’s fairytales to read by firelight in the otherworldly cabin she shares with her huntsman/woodsman father, it is the first- but not the last, and not even the most unequivocal- sign that we are watching a modern-day story in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. The tradition of the unexpurgated original tales, before they were made safe for children and the tenderhearted, where the world is a dangerous place of sinister magic and cruel (in)humans, and where it may not and likely won’t end happily ever after.
A new fairy tale, not a pastiche or contemporary updating. The characters are archetypes and the settings and situations are of the type, rather than this or that tale in a new guise. The fairytale spirit is created by the treatment.
Marissa and her minions are creepy because they’re exaggerated and unnatural. Erik isn’t creepy, but he is odd, and has a surpassing odd friend. Hanna’s upbringing is like something straight out of a fairytale. Her path takes her from the everyday world to a realm of fantastical strangeness, except for her it is civilization that is strange. Commonplace technology is disorienting and ordinary social interaction is the mysterious product of a different language and perplexing customs. The visual aesthetic transforms the known world into someplace disorienting and forbidding; the camera fixes Hanna alone and isolated at the center of panoramic views of wilderness landscapes, then follows her as she flees through man-made tunnels and canyons.
3 1/2 stars
*that portion of the audience that’s just gotta know what’s in the briefcase
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