- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he last thing you’d expect from the guy who directed literary dramas like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” is a high-energy action thriller, but that’s exactly what makes Joe Wright’s “Hanna” so appealing. Though Wright is clearly out to prove his versatility as a director with his latest feature, he hasn’t abandoned the qualities that define him as a filmmaker, resulting in a movie with influences ranging from “The Bourne Identity,” “The Professional” and “Run Lola Run,” but as filtered through the same art-house sensibilities of his previous films. It's hardly the best of its kind, but between the top-notch cast, cracking fight sequences, and pulse-pounding score courtesy of The Chemical Brothers, “Hanna” is the perfect appetizer for the summer season.
The film opens in the snowy woodlands of northern Finland, where we're introduced to the 16-year-old Hanna (Saorsie Ronan) as she hunts and kills a deer with the kind of survival skills you don’t normally find in many teenage girls. That’s because Hanna is the daughter of Erik Heller (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative who’s been training her for the sole purpose of killing the woman responsible for her mother’s death: steely government agent, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Following a strict plan laid out of by her father, Hanna allows herself to be captured by the CIA so that she can get close enough to Marissa to complete her mission. But when the woman she kills turns out to be a decoy, Hanna is forced to go on the run as she attempts to rendezvous with Erik in Berlin, inadvertently uncovering secrets from her past and what makes her so special.
Some people may walk out of “Hanna” ready to compare it to the Angelina Jolie action thriller, “Salt,” but that would be nothing short of an insult, because the similarities end at its female protagonists. “Hanna” is a much smarter piece of filmmaking than the generic spy film, which relied too heavily on its flashy set pieces and nonsensical plot. That’s not to say that Wright's film doesn’t have its share of cool action sequences – in fact, there are quite a few, including a particularly memorable one-take shot that follows Bana’s character as he gets off a bus and heads down into a parking garage where he faces off against a quartet of agents – but they’re a complement to the story rather than the centerpiece. And in that respect, “Hanna” is much more akin to the “Bourne” movies.
However, despite Wright’s commitment to developing the characters and story (there are just as many high-energy fight sequences as there are beautifully composed moments of Hanna quietly taking in her new surroundings), it’s the more stylistic elements of the film that really make it stand out. The cinematography is absolutely stunning – especially in the opening scenes that take place in the picturesque Finnish countryside – but that's nothing new for Wright, who always delivers lush visuals in each of his movies. The real highlight is The Chemical Brothers’ pulsating electronica soundtrack, which elevates the kinetic pacing and quick-cut visual style, and becomes the heartbeat of the film much like Daft Punk's widely loved score to “TRON: Legacy."
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the acting takes a backseat to everything else. It’s not bad by any means, but apart from Saorsie Ronan’s strong performance as the innocent but deadly title character, the rest of the actors don't have enough to do to really leave a mark; except for Cate Blanchett, although it’s for all the wrong reasons. Not only is her character saddled with a ridiculous red wig and a Southern accent that fluctuates, but Marissa is never given any motivation as to why she’s going to such extreme lengths to capture Hanna. Tom Hollander does have a bit of fun in an offbeat turn as a sadistic German hit man, and Jessica Barden shines in a welcome comic respite midway through the film as the teenage daughter of a vacationing British family that Hanna hitches a ride with, but it’s nothing that will make you stand up and take notice.
Thankfully, “Hanna” has more than enough going for it that it doesn’t really need any of the actors to go above and beyond in their roles. In fact, it’s precisely because none of the performances are very showy that Wright is able to employ such aggressive stylistic choices without the movie causing sensory overload. Some might criticize Wright for leaning too heavily on his gorgeous visuals, impressive tracking shots and frenetic editing, but sometimes, style can be just as important to the success of a film when it's used to enhance the story and its characters, and "Hanna” is certainly evidence of that.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Director Joe Wright takes center stage for the Blu-ray release of “Hanna” with an audio commentary track that, although not terribly exciting, is still worth listening to if you're a fan of his previous movies. Also included are some featurettes about the fight training and choreography (“Adapt or Die”), the story’s fairy tale archetypes (“Central Intelligence Allegory”), and the Chemical Brothers' score (“Chemical Reaction”), as well as a brief look at filming the escape sequence, a few deleted scenes and an alternate ending.