Directed By: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden, Jason Flemyng, Aldo Maland
After Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, it was quite clear that director Joe Wright was capable of great things, however, nothing can prepare you for the greatness that is his latest feature film, Hanna. It’s a visual and mental action adventure film packing enough energy and suspense to blow you right out of your seat and the best part about it is none of those effects are achieved using cinematic copouts, cheesy effects or any stale parlor trick. Hanna is powered by all-around genuinely thoughtful filmmaking and one heck of a performance from Saoirse Ronan resulting in a tense, funny, touching and, overall, wildly enjoyable experience.
Deep in the frigid forest of North Finland, Hanna (Ronan) lives with her father, Erik (Eric Bana), in a primitive cabin without a trace of modern technology. Rather than surfing the Internet and hanging out with friends, this teenager is learning to fight, hunt and speak Spanish, Italian and Arabic amongst other languages. Erik’s methods can be a bit callous, but they’re rooted in his deep love for his daughter and for her safety. However, eventually the day comes when Hanna must leave this life behind, enter the real world and demonstrate that she really is a perfect assassin.
Without her father’s guidance, Hanna is forced to complete her mission alone. She must travel through foreign lands with nothing except what her father taught her while a hardened intelligence operative, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), and her coldblooded associates follow right behind. The closer Hanna gets to her destination the more she discovers about her father, her pursuer and herself, all of which boil over into an extremely trying revelation.
Hanna starts out with a bang and keeps delivering one after the next all the way through. We meet Hanna while hunting a deer. She plunges an arrow deep into its torso only to approach her catch and proclaim, “I just missed your heart.” Without hesitation, she raises her gun and puts the beast out of its misery. It’s genius, incredibly effective and drives home one of the character’s most fascinating features – she has a dulled sense of grief. What would make most kids cry, doesn’t penetrate Hanna in the least.
While that brief instant is responsible for an incredibly significant amount of character description, we don’t stop learning about Hanna there. With every step she takes, we see a new side to her. There are quite a handful of miniscule moments through which we discover more subtle features and then there are the broader strokes, seeing Hanna go from her sheltered life with her father to being hurled into society for the first time. It’s all about adapting and it’s endlessly fascinating to watch the story adapt as the character continues her journey as well as Hanna herself, too.
Much of the credit for this character goes to Ronan. She is so clearly wholly committed to this role; it’s a wonder she didn’t lose herself in it completely. Hanna does change quite a bit from beginning to end, but Ronan manages to portray every single transformation in an undeniably powerful manner yet always keeping those changes within the confines of the character.
While this is certainly Ronan’s film, a few supporting characters do make quite an impact as well. The most memorable bunch is, without a doubt, Jessica Barden as Sophie, a young girl traveling with her family who crosses paths with Hanna. She’s a grown woman in a child’s body, sipping wine at dinner and discussing topics way beyond her years. She’s awfully snobby, but also compassionate and Barden works wonders with the juxtaposition not only earning many of the film’s laughs, but one of its most emotional moments, too. Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng do a fine job portraying Sophie’s parents, but the only other family member that comes close to Barden’s effect is Aldo Maland who plays her younger brother, Miles. The two make such a natural brother-sister team and the family unit as a whole, makes for an excellent complement to Hanna’s lonesome state.
Another particularly memorable character is Isaacs (Tom Hollander), the psychotic associate Marissa recruits to help her track down Hanna. This is such a colorful character and Hollander knows it. He brings Isaacs’ most eccentric traits, beyond his rather unique wardrobe, to the forefront making Isaacs not only fun to watch, but incredibly sinister. In fact, Isaacs is more of a villain than the film’s prime antagonist could ever be.
It’s not really Blanchett’s fault; Marissa is just a poorly developed and used character. Most of the time, she’s merely your typical stuck-up agent, constantly yelling at someone on the phone. It isn’t until Marissa engages in a certain interrogation towards the end of the film, that the character really pops, but at that point, it’s just way too late. On the other hand, Bana’s part starts off strong, but fizzles out as the story progresses. Yes, he and Hanna are separated at one point and his story is merely secondary from then on, but we get so little of Erik after the first act that when he does return, it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it could.
What does pack one heck of a punch is one of his fight scenes. In an impressively long tracking shot, we follow Erik down into a train station where he proceeds to kick the crap out of Marissa’s agents. It’s impossible to watch something like this without considering the great lengths Wright must have gone to in order to make this shot flow so well and catch all the action. On top of that, Wright is also quite skilled doing the exact opposite – enhancing the tension and suspension by showing action through a series of very short shots. Between the combination of formats and mesmerizing set designs, every battle feels extraordinarily fresh.
Also keeping your adrenaline pumping is the pulsating sounds of the film’s music by The Chemical Brothers. Never imposing, but always present, the score certainly flirts with being an intrusive element, but manages to push the tension to the peak without ever going overboard.
Hanna really is just one heck of a film. It’s original, enthralling, fun, thrilling and solidifies Saoirse Ronan as one of the best young actresses out there. Hanna is a likable and curious young girl who not only earns your sympathy, but is somewhat terrifying all at the same time. The combination of opposing features makes her an endlessly fascinating character worthy of infinite screen time. You’ll be dying to spend far more than just 104 minutes with Hanna.
By Perri Nemiroff