Hanna (United States/United Kingdom/Germany, 2011)April 05, 2011
Dark, visceral, and brimming with suspense, Hanna is not the follow-up to Pride & Prejudice and Atonement one might expect from director Joe Wright. Nevertheless, here it is: an intriguing, original thriller that owes as much of a debt to the likes of Frankenstein, the Brothers Grimm, David Lynch, and A Clockwork Orange as to The Professional and The Bourne Identity. Although it would be an exaggeration to claim that Hanna "has it all," it is a richer and more compelling white-knuckler than the average roller coaster ride into tension and mystery. And it also has the advantage of a "clean" ending, meaning that it provides unambiguous answers to the many questions it raises.
Wright prefers that Hanna be known as a drama with action sequences, but such a description shifts the focus away from the restless, relentless pacing. Yes, there are dramatic elements to the story - these are necessary to character development and narrative progression - but the real hook is the mystery surrounding the nature of the title character and the suspense that accompanies her journey from isolation to modern reality. The movie divides its storyline, following the parallel treks of Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father, Erik (Eric Bana), as they infiltrate society separately on their way to a reunion.
Hanna has spent most of her life in the inhospitable wilds of Finland, learning from her father how to become an elite assassin. His teaching methods are unforgiving and Hanna's training has been harsh. Now, however, with half her teen years behind her, she decides that she is ready to enter society. Her first mission is to infiltrate a secure U.S. government installation in Europe and kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the woman responsible for Hanna's mother's death. Meanwhile, Eric heads south so he can reunite with Hanna in Berlin once "the witch is dead." The plan goes much as expected, except the "Marissa" Hanna encounters is an imposter. After escaping the secure location where she is taken for interrogation, Hanna becomes the prey in a cat-and-mouse game with the real Marissa, who is stalking (and being stalked by) Erik.
Wright's visual mastery is in evidence throughout Hanna. Although he limits his flourishes (there are no long tracking shots to match the one in Atonement, which some viewers and critics found to be self-indulgent), the film looks great. Shots are carefully composed and never haphazard. Some of the early scenes in the snow are breathtaking and the clarity with which the action scenes are framed (especially the ones in which Hanna escapes from her captors and Erik faces off against four opponents in a columned "arena") remind the viewer of the value of a stable (rather than spastic) camera.
The fairy tale motifs are at times obvious - it's impossible to miss the wolf's head at the climax - and they are littered throughout the movie. There are parallels to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It would be spoiler-ish to go into much detail, but Hanna is shaped by her father and sent into the world with no knowledge of who she is or what she was created to do. There's a scene in which she spies upon a family engaged in normal, happy activities that recalls a moment from the novel. The David Lynch/Clockwork Orange shadows fall most strikingly over the character of Isaacs (played by Tom Hollander), whose gleeful sadism is at times darkly comedic.
Saoirse Ronan, the gifted young actress who received an Oscar nomination for her work in Atonement, is brilliant as Hanna. The portrayal is mostly cold and icy, as befits someone shaped as a killer in a frigid wilderness, but there are instances when she thaws. On one occasion, she is bombarded by the "wonders" of modern technology (fluorescent lighting and a television) and the panic is evident. On another, she befriends a girl of about her age and has difficulty separating platonic feelings from romantic ones. Hanna could easily come across as an automaton; Ronan humanizes her.
The supporting cast includes two highly respected actors - Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett - both of whom have a few nice scenes. If there's an unfortunate aspect of their performances, it's that they have distracting accents (Bana's is German, Blanchett's is American). Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng have small but important roles.
The thumping score by the Chemical Brothers is as important as Alwin Kuchler's camerawork to setting the mood and escalating the level of tension. With Hanna constantly pursued and sometimes seemingly trapped with no escape, there are opportunities for edge-of-the-seat moments. Wright doesn't let any of these pass. Hanna is not non-stop, wall-to-wall action, but the pace is fast and the exposition, which is dropped like Hansel and Gretel's crumbs, never gets in the way of the narrative pushing violently forward. This is an excellent thriller and one of the best movies of 2011's first half.
Hanna (United States/United Kingdom/Germany, 2011)
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden, Aldo Maland
Screenplay: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Cinematography: Alwin Kuchler
Music: The Chemical Brothers
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features