There’s a time in any parent’s life when they realize that the cute little baby they’ve helped nurture and care for has grown up into a young person with hopes, dreams, and the ability to best them in hand-to-hand combat. For Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), that moment comes when she’s sixteen and her father, Erik (Eric Bana) gives her the transponder that will allow the authorities to locate and capture her.
You see, Hanna’s not just another teenage girl. She’s actually the obsession of CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) and the last remnant of a secret government project to create the perfect soldier.
Of course, the fact that Hanna allows herself to be caught is a clue to all involved. This girl’s got a mission. And that mission is revenge. Sending a child to do an adult’s job isn’t always the best idea, and when Hanna goes on the run with her work undone, the hunter has become the hunted and the predator has become the prey.
Joe Wright isn’t known for his action films, but he has produced some great work in his brief career as a director. Specifically, Wright is the director of Atonement, for which Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an Academy Award. While Hanna won’t be winning any Oscars (since they don’t give Oscars to action films), it is a well-made European thriller in the tradition of Luc Besson.
Hanna looks great, and unlike a lot of modern action films, it finds a balance between the shaky cam POV shooting and Steadicam shots, to blend visceral action with stuff people can actually watch without using their popcorn buckets as portable vomitoriums.
Wright and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler also find some very unusual places to stage their action scenes, and even breathe some new life into familiar old settings like sewers, abandoned amusement parks, and shipping yards.
The trio of stars in Hanna, Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett, are very good in this film. Saoirse Ronan has an incredible look about her, with a wonderful delicateness in her expressions, yet a sureness and grace in her physicality that comes through in her martial arts scenes. She walks a fine line between being a vulnerable kid and a hard edged fighting machine, and Ronan is able not to swing too far in either direction.
Bana also brings his tremendous physical presence to the screen as Hanna’s father, Erik, while Cate Blanchett channels Clarice Starling mixed with Hannibal Lecter for her role as the woman who is determined to track down what she calls “a rogue asset.” Tom Hollander’s, ahem, unusual ex-secret agent/assassin character, Isaacs, also walks a delicate balance between foppish and fatal, and he does it well.
While the script, from frequent MI-5 contributor, David Farr, and Seth Lochhead, lacks the originality of, say, The American, it’s consistently entertaining. The action set pieces are well spaced, and in between there are some fine moments of drama for Ronan to work with, as well as some comic relief in the form of an unusual British family that Hanna links up with as they caravan through northern Africa and Spain, which gives Hanna a family group she never had growing up in the Arctic with her fugitive father.
One of the interesting things about Hanna is that the film isn’t simply an action film, and Hanna herself isn’t simply an action movie cypher. She’s a girl on the cusp of womanhood, taking her first tentative steps out into a world she doesn’t know, while trying to figure out just who she is and what her purpose might be. The fact that she’s a born killer doesn’t change the fact that she’s also a teenager. While the movie doesn’t focus on that to the detriment of the action scenes (Hanna is much more action-oriented than The American or The Professional), it’s an unusual addition to the character of Hanna, and it gives the movie a little something to chew on that doesn’t involve bullets.
In a way, Hanna is as much about the relationships of the main characters (Hanna and Erik, Erik and Wiegler, Hanna and her first/only friend, Sophie) as it is about the revenge plot and just how Hanna became what she is. When you think about it, don’t our relationships have as much or more to do with who we become than our genetic makeup?
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