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A Pandora’s Box in a frozen Eden sets an innocent forth into a world she’s read about but never seen.  A child nurtured on the art of murder without understanding mortality and loss will face both in short order.  All this and more spins across our eyes in a haze of hallucinogenic Chemical thumps and Lynchian surrealism in director Joe Wright’s story of a teenaged assassin, Hanna.

As punishment for not sensing her father’s presence as she dispatches the deer they’ll eat for a week, Hanna must drag the animal’s carcass on her own across the tundra they call home for her lack of attention.  It’s a bummer but apparently nothing new to the snow-blonde pubescent who’s more dismayed at missing the animal’s heart with her arrow than bearing her father’s scorn.  Life in this remotest of locales is the only one she’s ever known.  Her father’s lessons where academia takes a backseat to those of assassination and survival are the only schooling she’s ever had.  

Hanna’s discovery of a remote beacon acts as the shiny red apple of temptation in their arctic paradise.  If Hanna flips a switch on the small metal box, the government agent she’s been training to kill all her life will come looking for her, effectively ending her harsh but loving existence in the frozen plain.  The girl on the edge of womanhood can’t resist the lure of her life beginning and doing what she’s been designed to do and so it begins.  Both father and daughter evacuate their home to begin a cat and mouse game with the CIA operative who needed to dispatch them decades ago but failed and now needs to clean up her mess.  Deliberately falling into the hands of her captors, will Hanna be able to complete her mission, free herself and reunite with her father all while dealing with the vagaries and raging hormones of puberty?

Hanna seems an odd fit for the cat who directed the gorgeous 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice and 2007’s toney Atonement.  One might not expect the helmer of such character-based fare to take on a full-tilt actioner, but that’s exactly one of the most compelling aspects of this story of a child assassin.  Wright spends as much time invested in the soul of his young cypher; a being raised for only one purpose, how well she can kill.  There’s been no society, no civilisation, no interaction with anyone except her father and the wild animals she kills for their survival.  However well trained to her task, there are a million and one eventualities in simply dealing with other humans that Hanna cannot possibly prepare for.  Being the literal babe in the woods, Hanna isn’t ready for the sudden, striking need to have a friend or the onset of normal teenage urges and it’s Hanna as a blank slate making her way through the world that is fascinating and surprisingly touching. 

What she is ready for is complete annihilation and a MacGyver-like ability to find a way out of sticky situations.  Allowing herself to be captured in order to get closer to agent Marissa Weigler brings about a much shorter imprisonment than the CIA would have expected.  Weigler, seeing the situation careen out of hand calls in a strange operative who spends his time not trying to kill people as the owner of a live porn theatre.  The pair tracks Hanna and her father across several continents, catching up in a rundown, storybook-themed Berlin amusement park, surreally suitable for this tale of an adolescent sleeper waking up in a very twisted world. 

Speaking of surreal; director Joe Wright makes the most of his movie-loving background by creating Hanna more in the image of avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch than director David Lean to whom Wright is frequently compared.  It is less epic, more experimentation and just plain weirdness; like the midget running around the tableaus at the rival assassin’s porno theatre.  Cate Blanchett as Weigler, the government agent with a shoe fetish and a really nasty past, is given to bouts of self-inflicted unprettiness à la Diane Ladd from Wild at Heart whenever she feels a bit low.  A dizzying montage of camera styles is unleashed as Hanna escapes the CIA interrogation bunker, skewing the viewers’ perspective and further submerging us in the dream/twisted fairy tale. 

There isn’t enough that can be said about the score by techno gods, The Chemical Brothers except that this film would not have been the same without it.  The second Hanna chooses the end of her old life and assumes her murderous role, starting with an unfortunate Weigler decoy; the pounding soundtrack grabs you by the eardrums and doesn’t let go.  The excitement is heightened but never overpowered by the insistent beats.

I’ve lauded the work of young Saoirse Ronan since I first clapped eyes on her in Wright’s Atonement and she hasn’t let me down since; even in fare unworthy of her prodigious talent.  Ronan melts into the alien character inside and out, with hair and brows bleached by years in the sun and snow, only Hanna’s piercing blue eyes hold any colour.  She’s almost a ninja in negative, so pale as to be invisible.  Hanna has been trained to adapt to any situation that might crop up; this includes being fluent in a host of languages, making use of whatever space is handy to sleep in and a bit of theft when necessary.  Ronan makes every part of Hanna’s fascinating character believable.  She’s the clinical killer with no real grasp on the gravity of the lives she’s taking.  Watching her find friendship and romance in her travels is like watching a baby’s first steps.  Her first betrayal at the hands of someone close to her is a devastation she doesn’t have time to process, as is her first real loss.  Ronan gives everything she has to the role, not only walking the delicate tightrope between the innocence of her age and upbringing and the cold-blooded acts she must commit, but handling Hanna’s physical demands like an MMA champ.  The fighting scenes are excellently choreographed with the film’s “adapt or die” theme pervading even these with guns, hand-to hand combat and anything that’s handy being used.  Ronan’s performance is a marvel as she imbues Hanna with the heart and fearlessness of an actor twice her age.

If there’s any reservation I had with Hanna, it was with its understandable desire to reach a broader audience by opting for a PG-13 rating.  The film deserves to be seen and adored by the female demographic that never has this type of film made for them, but I wish some of the action had shown the brutality that surrounds and marks each of its characters.  Still, the action sequences are brilliantly staged and thrilling with the stars doing much of their own stunts.  The trademark Joe Wright long single tracking shot alone -- Eric Bana as Hanna’s father makes his way through a bus terminal and dispatches some enemies that really should’ve known better – is worth the price of admission.

With much more to it than its teenage assassin premise, Joe Wright’s Hanna is a grim fairy tale about a girl’s coming-of-age, that’s also terribly entertaining. Thrilling to both the eye and ear, Hanna stands apart as a cerebral action movie.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 8th, 2011


Click here for our coverage of the Hanna NYC Junket.

Click here for our coverage of the New York Comic Con Hanna Preview.


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