Review: Joe Wright's 'Hanna' is a Solid Shot of Weighty Adrenaline
by Jeremy Kirk
April 8, 2011
Kids who kick butt in movie theaters aren't exactly in short order these days. Yes, I saw what I did there, too. After the flash and fantasy of films like Kick-Ass and Sucker Punch, movie goers might be looking for something a bit more grounded in their youths who kick, punch, and fire ample amounts of artillery. Grounded yet still high octane might be a better way to look at it. Enter Joe Wright (IMDb), the man who brought us Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist - not exactly Michael Bay when it comes to high energy action set pieces. That's a good thing, though, as Hanna delivers all the action and excitement you might expect from a veteran director of "things blowing up" movies
There's also a definite sense of naturalness to Hanna, a solidity and weight to its drama and characters that keeps you highly invested in all that action taking place. It's thrills and chills but it's also a significance in the mystery, an unfolding of its CIA espionage story that keeps your senses in tune with what's going on underneath as well as on the surface that makes Hanna work so well. Saoirse Ronan plays the titular character, a 16-year-old girl living in the wilderness with her father, played by Eric Bana. He trains her to hunt, to fight, and teaches her a general knowledge of the world away from the barrenness she has known all her life. He also instills in her a sense of hatred, of vengeance against one person - Marissa Weigler.
Weigler, played by Cate Blancett, is a CIA agent. She has been searching for Hanna's father for years, so, when the day comes for Hanna to leave the wilderness and seek out this act of vengeance for her father, a game of cat and mouse ensues that raises questions, delivers answers, and jolts Hanna's idea of the world and her place in it in ways she didn't expect.
Wright along with screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr do a great job in the way they handle information delivered to the audience. In the film's opening moments, we see Hanna and her father in the wilderness surviving on the animals they hunt. There's no back story. No information dump. No precursory exposition to get the audience up to speed on who these two are, and why we should care. We simply do, because we feel the connection between them, watch as father teaches daughter and understand the relationship at hand.
Even when Hanna and her father move to the world we are more comfortable with, Wright keeps the audience at arms length of the truth. There are flashbacks here and there, little bits of information delivered by showing us instead of telling us. It's the best way to deliver such information to the audience. We never feel like our hand is being held in the explanation. When new characters are introduced - most notably Tom Hollander's German hitman Isaacs who seems to rub creep into his hair - their establishment is based on who they are, what we see them doing, and not an overabundance of needless dialogue just for the sake of catching us up.
And all of that is before the action kicks in. Wright isn't the most skilled at coordinating and shooting fight scenes. Particularly the fight scenes featuring Hanna herself that seem to utilize too much closeup and shaky cam to possibly cover what Ronan can't do. One fight scene in particular is all slo-mo, and the scene suffers for it. But for the most part, the action in Hanna is energetic, stylistically pieced together, and raged to wicked life with the aid of a thumping soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. Wright loves his single tracking shots. Hanna features a number of them that include chases, story development, and fights all in one continuous shot. Each of them are breathtakingly executed, the kind of shots that make you reaching for a rewind button even in the theater.
None of the action, as stylized and fashionably shot as it may be, would work if you didn't care for these characters. The screenplay and Wright's handling of it is one part. The other comes from the acting, all of which is in top form here. Ronan commands her presence as Hanna, pulls out the sympathy when needed but never makes you question her ability to knock out some teeth. Hanna is a strong child role, one that requires an intensely gifted actress to take charge of it. That is something Ronan does almost effortlessly.
The same goes for Blanchett's Marissa, a character who is decidedly malevolent in her ways but who doesn't see herself as the villain of this story. Those are best types of villains, the ones who think their actions are for a greater good. Blanchett grasps that concept completely, almost making you second guess at times where her character's story is headed. When she turns on the evil, though, it all becomes clear, and she makes Marissa one of the most effective villains to come along in quite some time.
Stylishly paced yet oddly quirky in the fairy tale lens it puts over your eyes, Hanna is a top-notch thriller that delivers just as much depth in its mystery as it does action-packed feast for your senses. The action may not always be composed as well as it should be, and a few of Hanna's actions later in the film make you scratch your head - best not to say too much for fear of spoiling pivotal plot points - but Joe Wright has arrived as a director who can take on excitement as well as drama. Hanna is a solid shot to the heart, one that impacts, spreads, and keeps you enticed for loads more.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10