Directed by Joe Wright
Screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Saoirse Ronan as Hanna
Eric Bana as Erik
Cate Blanchett as Marissa
Running time: 111 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language.
Wright has crafted a feminist take on assassination tales that rivals the best any director has to offer.
In a snow-covered forest a girl is tracking a deer undetected. She’s quiet and lithe, and the camerawork follows her disappearance into her surroundings as we view her from afar. Finally close enough to the deer, she takes aim, pulls back the arrow on her bow, and shoots the animal in its chest, but doesn’t kill it. It takes flight, even though its fate is inevitable. “I just missed your heart,” the girl tells the beast, raising a gun. She takes aim, and pulls the trigger. This is our introduction to Hanna, the young protagonist of director Joe Wright’s (Atonement) dark fairytale about covert government operations.
We are soon enmeshed in the daily life of Hanna and her father Erik (Eric Bana). Hanna has been trained and educated by Erik to get close to intelligence operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett) and assassinate her. Eventually, she is ready for the outside world, and Erik produces a box that will put out a signal and lead Marissa right to them. Later in the film we also learn about Erik’s history with Marissa, the truth about the fate of Hanna’s mother, and what Hanna’s true identity is: an experiment the government tried to cover up some years ago that is now unleashed. None of this is a surprise to anyone who has seen ads for the film.
Along the way to rendezvous with her father in Berlin, she also befriends Sophie the young daughter of a British family on holiday. These scenes are important because they show how disconnected Hanna’s existence has been. She can speak multiple languages and knows a lot of facts, but almost nothing about how to interact with humans who aren’t trying to kill her. The daughter is a typical tween, obsessed with fashion, celebrities and boys, and she befriends Hanna after a strange meeting while Hanna is fleeing from the military in the desert. Hanna’s time with the family provides a lot of the film’s middle half, and with her new friend, she is introduced to boys, kissing, and a ton of other things she has never had to process as part of her upbringing.
The film is a thrilling exercise in the female assassin genre, which has seen a growth in the past few years with films largely starring Angelina Jolie (see: Salt, Wanted and Mr. and Mrs. Smith). There are plenty of chases — mostly on foot — and a lot of close-quarters combat. That being said, Hanna relies on fairy tales for its inspiration, and functions in much the same way as a cautionary tale like the early Brothers Grimm stories, featuring much human darkness mingled with coming-of-age wonder that has made those tales endure over hundreds of years. Hanna is essentially a classic character who has been brought up in a very closed environment and then thrust into the unknown. In fact, there are many times in the film when she asks those around her, “Where am I?” and no one is able to provide a coherent answer.
The action sequences are pretty astounding, and there’s a chase sequence through a shipping yard that is particularly thrilling. Hanna is a force to be reckoned with, and she doesn’t really have an equal, even with all of the high-level assassins brought in to hunt her down. Saoirse Ronan is great in the role — wholly believable and empathetic.
Hanna features a score by electro punk duo The Chemical Brothers, and like the Daft Punk score for Tron: Legacy last year, it perfectly melds the electronic sensibilities of the group’s dance-pop interests with a traditional film score. The musical theme that occurs throughout the movie provides a childlike, whimsical counterpoint to the dissonant ominous tones that are part of the action-thriller music territory, and helps to underscore the wondrous situation that Hanna is presented with.
Joe Wright has turned in another solid piece of work which provides a strong feminist outlook. As in Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, he has given us yet another strong female lead in a film culture that is all too often devoid of them — all without giving in to the temptations of caricature, which those of you who have seen Zack Snyder’s visually interesting but completely brain dead Sucker Punch will recognize. Wright is not a filmmaker interested in mere genre conventions, and with Hanna he has presented a complex portrait of a young woman trying to find her place in a world that is too dangerous for innocence.
Matt Smith graduated from the University of South Carolina with
degrees in Film Studies and History. He is particularly fond of
horror and action genre films, and his past and upcoming research has
dealt with propaganda films, national cinemas and animation. Matt
reads mostly detective and crime fiction, and though he is well into
his adult life, he also reads what some may consider an inordinate
amount of comic books each and every week. He is currently in the
very early stages of researching a book on animated propaganda films
and patiently awaiting the return of Firefly (one can dream!) to