Bland title, beguiling movie. Hanna is far from perfect but, courtesy of star Saoirse Ronan and director Joe Wright, it's one of those imperfect pictures that manages to command and hold our attention straight from the opening frames. There, in a snow-draped forest of surreal beauty, a young hunter clad in animal skins takes aim with bow and arrow at a large stag, releases the shot, then approaches the fallen prey and whispers in a dispassionate monotone, "I just missed your heart."
The same might be said of this film, although any errant aim is not for lack of trying. Part fairy tale, part action flick, with borrowings that range all the way from The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser to Kick-Ass, there's a whole lot going on here. The start is right out of a Grimm's fable. Hanna is the teenage hunter (Ronan), a "wild child" pale and blond and freckled and raised in an isolated cabin by her woodsman father. So far, it's a by-the-book classic.
Yet wait. Despite the forest setting and the primitive garb, the times aren't ancient but modern. Dad (Eric Bana) is a rogue CIA agent who's schooled his child both in deadly physical skills and on a higher intellectual plane. Steeped in the sciences and humanities, speaking multiple languages, Hanna is a walking encyclopedia and a pint-sized paradox - she possesses a world of knowledge but, never having left the woods, not a scintilla of worldly experience. The girl can expound on the physics of electricity yet has never seen a light bulb. She knows that "kissing requires a total of 34 facial muscles," yet has never puckered up.
Well, release the kid. Inside the cabin, Hanna literally pushes the button on the plot, whereupon Dad leaves for Berlin, although not before commanding her to meet him there at a prearranged date. Why? Dunno, but we're sure matters will clear up soon. However, there's no doubt about the nemesis. Enter the Wicked Witch in the person of Marissa the CIA honcho (Cate Blanchett with dark hair and a dubious Texas accent). She's an ultra-polished zealot keen to track down and stamp out each member of our father/daughter team. Why? Again, dunno, but we're sure matters will clear up soon.
Immediately, Hanna is captured by uniformed operatives and rendered to an underground compound. But all that training affords her a quick escape, clambering through a tunnel up and out and into … the vast craggy emptiness of the Moroccan desert. This sudden panorama is a jolting contrast to the opening snowscape, but it's just as surreal. If you liked Wright's showy tracking shot in the Dunkirk sequence of Atonement, you'll love his work here. This time out he's given the whole film that otherworldly and unsettling look, which, of course, is exactly in keeping with his heroine.
In Morocco, Hanna hooks up with a vacationing English family, including a chatty girl her own age (Jessica Barden). Yes, the meeting of the two teenagers - the one an awesomely typical mess of lip gloss and raging hormones, the other a hitherto cloistered assassin who's all fatale and no femme - is naturally played for laughs. Yet, thanks to Ronan's engagingly hybrid performance - her mix of lethal physicality and ethereal detachment - there's poignancy, too, especially in a quiet and lovely scene where the teens bond across the chasm of their differences.
Unfortunately, back on the action front, those matters that should be clearing up are not. The plot is still pretty opaque. A tale of confused parentage emerges, only to remain confusing. Dad is on the run to somewhere, Marissa is shooting off her gun and her mouth with like zeal, her henchmen are on the prowl, but none of it adds up. Visually, though, Wright continues to be strong. A chase sequence, set among shipping containers laid out like giant Lego blocks, is imaginatively done. So the sights are good, even when the sense is absent. Or, at least, that's true until the climax in a dingy Berlin theme park, where that Grimm's fable stuff gets pushed to literal and risible extremes. Now we're laughing for the wrong reasons.
Yet we're still compelled to watch. There's real merit here, stylistic and thematic, just not enough to catch up with its ambition. Ultimately, the movie is a disappointment, but the kind that's easy to enjoy and easier to forgive. That's because, of all the things that Hanna isn't, one stands out above the rest - it isn't boring.
- Directed by Joe Wright
- Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr
- Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden
- Classification: PG