REVIEW: Hanna [2011]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 111 minutes | Release Date: April 8th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Focus Features
Director(s): Joe Wright
Writer(s): Seth Lochhead & David Farr / Seth Lochhead (story)

“I found her, she can’t speak English. She’s Sri Lankan.”

Written on spec by Seth Lochhead in 2006, the Black List alum Hanna finally reaches screens with help from co-screenwriter David Farr and director Joe Wright. If you thought Wright’s last film, The Soloist, seemed a bit out of his comfort zone, having previously completed two period pieces, I can relate to the confusion and excitement you’d have hearing his next would be an action thriller starring a young, brutally violent female killer. But just as he stunned me by the quality of storytelling and the visual/aural aesthetic three times before, he has done so again. A pulse-pounding score from The Chemical Brothers helps keep a sense of disorientation throughout, juxtaposing against Saoirse Ronan’s titular girl’s anachronistic lifestyle—fearlessness, cunning, maturity, and complete rationality existing where romance, laughter, innocence, and fun should. Raised in a wintry forest by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), Hanna has been raised to fight, kill, survive, and ultimately murder Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

She is not devoid of all innocence, though, as you’ll see just how her upbringing prepared for so much, but left out even more. Capable of speaking numerous languages, unfazed to walk the dark streets alone, and able to spout out facts about everything in a trained, monotone recall of encyclopedic information, this seventeen year old was bred for a mission. Little things like a first kiss or candor about how her mother died, (“three bullets”), create an uncomfortable laughter as we watch her fish-out-of-water entrance into the real world. Conditioned to lie about her heritage, a fictional background was created to deflect suspicion although her breathless oration of it leaves all plausibility out the window. Never experiencing electricity firsthand, never hearing the sound of music, never having a friend besides her father, Hanna isn’t as equipped to handle the real world as she may think. Erik left it up to her about when to go back, a throw of a signal switch away from being scooped up by Wiegler and her government cronies. But assimilation was never the purpose.

The return is all about retribution on the woman who drove the duo into hiding. As Erik’s old handler, Marissa’s involvement in the life of Hanna is much deeper than appearances let on. Yes, she has been looking to destroy this girl for many years, but the reasons aren’t as black and white as good versus evil. True motivating factors are revealed as the plot moves along briskly, memories and puzzle pieces uncovered and put together; a DNA test result looming large as an unknown factor, causing the audience to question exactly what they’re dealing with. From the first frame showing Hanna on the hunt in the snow, disappearing without a sound as trees block our view in quick camera pans, we can tell something is special about this girl. Her capture is methodically planned, the dead bodies in her cabin showing how her calm acceptance to leave with armed men isn’t a matter or defeat. It’s only when confronted with the woman she’s been bred to kill that her hidden strength is released in a violent purge of aggression—gunshots, blood splatters, and an expressionless face of indifference replacing a sobbing young girl in need of consoling.

This sequence, trapped in an underground government facility, is where the action begins. The staccato synth-beats crackle in concert with flashing tunnel lights and quick hand-to-hand maneuvers. No matter how heart-pounding any of the fight choreography at the start, however, nothing contends with the brilliant, 360-degree exchange between Bana and five or so hopeful captors. Shot in one continuous take to capture each kick, punch, gunshot, and knife throw without editing; the battle will leave you as breathless as its victor. But don’t think Hanna is all about the action, there is an intriguingly taut story to go along with its explosive nature—and an eccentric cast of characters to populate it. This young girl is on the run, alone, and looking for safe haven with her father, using any means to get to her journey’s end. So we experience her education in the ways of outdoor living through Europe, hitching with a family of hippies in Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams, Aldo Maland, and the wonderful Jessica Barden as Sophie. Barden should be annoying, yet her polar opposite to the composed intelligence of Hanna makes the character integral to the film’s dynamic—a mirror of what our heroine should be.

Bana is great as the orchestrator of everything occurring, nuanced in his anger-fueled motives and love for his daughter. He doesn’t have a huge role in the film, though, taking a backseat along with both Blanchett and her hired dog Isaacs (Tom Hollander channeling his inner Udo Kier creep to go against type for Euro-trash slime). Besides a scene with red-haired Marissa Wiegler wearing rubber gloves bringing to mind the actress’s hysterical rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in Bandits, you do believe her maliciousness and the actions taken over a decade previous to cause such a vindictive desire for blood out of Heller. Blanchett and Bana’s encounters are generally brief and destructive, but the filmmakers never pander to the audience by prolonging inevitabilities. Deaths occur quick and without much fanfare, much as they would in real life. As such, Ronan is hauntingly exotic in her murders, her angelic face put to good use juxtaposed with measured violence. It’s a role that will open doors and set the stage for a fruitful career—the seamless back and forth from frivolity, like with Martin Wuttke’s magician Knepfler, and serious executioner, discovering her life was never her own.

[1] Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character in Joe Wright’s adventure thriller HANNA, a Focus Features release. Photo credit: Focus Features.
[2] Cate Blanchett (left) and Tom Hollander (right) star in Joe Wright’s adventure thriller HANNA, a Focus Features release. Photo credit: Alex Bailey.
[3] Eric Bana stars as Erik Heller in Focus Features’ Hanna (2011)

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