Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Release Review: Hanna (Joe Wright, 2011)

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl who lives in the wilds of Finland with her widowed father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man. She is bright, inquisitive and uniquely possesses the strength, the stamina and the smarts of a soldier; the result of her father's intensive training, which includes teaching Hanna self defence and the ability to hunt. Living a life unlike any other teenager, her upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. She has never come into contact with the modern world, with her education coming through Erik's personal teachings from an encyclopaedia and a book of fairytales. She has a number of false back-stories memorised, should the opportunity arise.

Such an opportunity does arise, as Erik reveals to Hanna that he has unfinished business and that flicking a switch on an old transmitter will reveal their whereabouts to a corrupt ex-CIA associate, Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett). Hanna ensures him that she is ready and it is with a combination of pride and apprehension that Erik realises that his daughter can no longer be held back. Erik leaves before Weigler's team surrounds the house, captures Hanna and takes her to a CIA facility in Morocco.

There she learns that her father is a target because of his knowledge of a secret, one also involving Hanna's mother who was shot and killed by Weigler. Hanna, who kills the body-double posing as Weigler, breaks free of her cell and escapes the compound. On the run in the desert, she befriends a teenage girl, Sophie (Jessica Barden), and her hippie parents (Jason Flemying and Olivia Williams) and hitches a ride to Berlin. The mercenaries assigned by Weigler to capture Hanna, led by Isaacs (Tom Hollander), eventually catch up to the unawares family and pursue Hanna into Berlin. There she reunites with Erik, who had his own problems, and prepares to put her years of training into full practice.

What is tragic about this tale is that Hanna is a teenager with no knowledge of the world she lives in. When she is shown an object, she can recall the information taught by her father, but in many cases has no sense on how to react to, or utilise it. When she discusses kissing with a boy, all she can recall are the muscles the face uses to pucker for one. She is not an ordinary girl. Of course she knew this already, but as she interacts with other people for the first time, she realises just how distant she is from normality and she becomes plagued by questions. She becomes angry. The shocking discovery that Hanna makes deep in the third act about her existence is just as troubling. Why was the truth kept hidden from her? With such alterations to her DNA, will she ever live the life of a normal person?

On a visceral level Hanna is nearly unmatched this year. I remained compelled throughout the entire experience, with my senses heightened by the mix of dynamic camerawork, rapid editing, the electric, pulse-pounding score by The Chemical Brothers and the assortment of other technical trickery (including split-screen and slow-motion) thrown in there to give the film an edge. It also features one of the year’s best scenes; one particularly lengthy take involving Eric Bana. Hanna is smartly directed by Joe Wright (it’s hard to believe, watching this, that the man also directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice), who has made a bold decision to jump outside his comfort zone head-on. The choice shooting locales were perfect. The climax takes place in an abandoned theme park and, in coordination with Hanna’s knowledge of Fairytales, the rendezvous point in Berlin resembles a gingerbread house. It also features flashing lights to illuminate the interior with this surreal red glow, and bizarrely, the surrounding lawns are strewn with broken dinosaur statues.

I also loved the way it was shot. The photography, which focuses on Hanna's face in an interesting way, adapts to suit each sequence. It contrasts early picturesque captures of Hanna and Erik in the wintry climate, with jarring hand-held in the close-quarters confrontations. The score perfectly accompanies the action, and I always seem to find a chase scene to a pumping soundtrack quite exciting. Needless to say, this is a chase film, so there is a lot of running. While Hanna has an agenda (to reunite with her father) and a target (Marissa Wiegler), she spends a large chunk of the film escaping her captors and fleeing her pursuers. I liked the allusions to fairytales also. Hanna, following her escape from the facility, enters a world where she must have felt a bit like Alice entering Wonderland, or Dorothy entering Oz.

Most important in a character-driven action film are the performances, and Wright draws excellent performances from his cast. Saoirse Ronan is the standout and if you weren’t already aware that she is a star in the making following her performances in Atonement (Oscar-nominated), The Way Back and The Lovely Bones, then she has staked her claim here. Battling existential questions and coming across as cool, ruthless and instinctive with her survival skills, as she is scared and naïve about her surroundings, it becomes quite a complex role. She receives excellent support from a pretty badass Eric Bana and a pretty mean Cate Blanchett. Not sure about that dire Southern American accent though Cate. Sporting bright red hair, she prances around in high heels and suit for most of the film. Mention must go to Tom Hollander for pulling off one of the most amusing villains of the year; a camp associate of Weigler.  

While the action, with exception of the second act, which focuses predominantly on Hanna’s orientation with the real world and her time spent with the family, is relentless, cold and brutal, there are some laughs to break the tension. Unfortunately, there are also some moments where you have to suspend your disbelief. Some viewers will have qualms with the plot holes that litter the film and the points that remain unexplained. The film also ends without a real resolution, leaving the audience with questions to ponder. I found these to be minor flaws, because this is easily one of the best action thrillers released in cinemas this year. A riveting, visceral experience from start to finish, Wright delivers a real winner. 

My Rating: 4 Stars (B+)


  1. I really liked it, but there seemed to be something missing. The 2nd half left something to be desired, and there were points where it definitely felt Wright was trying way too hard.

    Ronan can do no wrong, though.

  2. This was definitely a fun film and a big improvement over Wright's last film in The Soloist. My favorite scene for me was when Hanna was hiding in the van where the family was singing David Bowie's "Kooks". I geeked out during that moment as it's from my all-time favorite Bowie album.

  3. Not to be a bitch, but second sentence you have two subsequent "of's"

    I'm happy you liked it man. The ending was a bit disappointing, but it was a good time for sure.

  4. Hanna, why you no release in NZ until the 1st of bloody September?

    I reeeeeeeally want to see this film. Because Saoirse Ronan is the best.

  5. it certainly sounds like you really enjoyed this one andy. and there i was hoping you wouldn't!

    you enjoying it so much is totally deserved after having sat through the conspirator for me. :D

    nice work my friend

  6. @ Red: I know what you mean, but I could forgive a lot of the holes because I think that enough was revealed about Hanna and her origins, and it presented enough of her orientation to worldly life to leave us to speculate her future. Ronan was outstanding. Such a talent.

    @ Steven: There were lots of great scenes, but even ones as small as that leave an impact.

    @ Sam: Oops. Thanks buddy. Wrote this at like 2am.

    @ Stevee: That's a shame! I think you will enjoy it :-)

    @ Toby: Haha. Yeah, I am glad that both Captain America and Hanna were supremely enjoyable experiences, following The Conspirator. As expected I loved the camerawork and the score. I was engaged throughout and a couple of scenes really blew me away. Not flawless, but one of the best 'action/thrillers of the year so far...

  7. I really liked the scene when Hanna runs away from the base, and then there's Chemical Brothers playing in the background...I was pumped!
    I thought the ending was weak too...I thought it got over too soon. And I didn't get why people apart from Cate Blanchett didn't care about finding her.