The new thriller Hanna may be visually bold, but there’s less to it than meets the eye. Fairy tale overtones, breathless action and a striking performance from Saoirse Ronan can’t quite get Hanna past its own gimmickry.
The movie’s most important gimmick can be found in its title character. Sixteen-year-old Hanna (Ronan) comes equipped with the kind of identity that earns respect in movies. She’s a carefully trained killer, a deadly helping of girl power served in an action context.
Ronan’s Hanna may have an Alice in Wonderland face, but she’s not likely to show up at any tea parties. She can take on multiple foes, outrun even the most determined of pursuers, speak a variety of languages, and hunt game before breakfast. Did I mention that she handles weapons as deftly as other kids text?
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Raised in a Finnish forest by a rogue CIA agent (Eric Bana), Hanna has been well schooled in the survival arts. She has been taught to anticipate danger and to defend herself.
In fairness, it must be said that Ronan elevates Hanna above the script’s abundant absurdity, giving her an eerie determination that makes this disorienting and far-fetched thriller more compelling than it deserves to be. When Hanna leaves the isolation of the forest, she’s like an alien trying to understand a new planet.
But Ronan can’t totally make up for the script’s lack of logic, unless you buy the idea that references to fairy tales excuse a multitude of sins, particularly a lack of plausibility.
I’m not over-interpreting: Wright makes explicit references to classic fairy tales, beginning with an illustrated edition of Red Riding Hood that Hanna peruses in an early scene and culminating in a showdown in an abandoned German amusement park where Wright offers one last grandly overstated chance to equate evil with a wolf.
Having passed beyond the age of the brothers Grimm, we must look for our ogres, witches and wicked stepmothers in the one place that reliably supports big-screen villainy: the secret corridors of government. Hanna must square off against a CIA bureaucrat (Cate Blanchett) who combines the bite of the Big Bad Wolf with the cunning of a wicked witch.
If Ronan is able to take Hanna beyond gimmickry, Blanchett — a gifted actress who need not apologize for anything she does — fares less well. Her Marissa, an all-business killer, is a predator, right down to her bleeding gums. She’s arch, vicious and burdened by a wavering Southern accent.
Wright, who directed Ronan in Atonement and who also directed a big-screen version of Pride and Prejudice, this time forsakes literary adaptation for a kinetically charged fantasy in which Hanna spends nearly the entire movie on the run. When Hanna decides she’s ready to leave the forest, she’s captured by Marissa’s troops. After she escapes, she heads for Berlin, where she’s supposed to reunite with Bana’s character.
En route, Hanna faces a variety obstacles. Notable among these supporting menaces: Tom Hollander’s Isaacs, a freakish blond killer whose looks and intonations suggest a level of perversity so ingrained, it has become casual.
At heart, Hanna is little more than a glorified series of chases with one interlude offering a bit of relief. Hanna latches onto a normal family that’s touring Morocco in a battered van. Hanna does her best to make friends with the family’s teen-age daughter (a lively Jessica Barden), but Hanna has not learned much about social interaction.
The movie doesn’t sit still for long, and Hanna soon finds herself back in motion, traversing borders with an ease that defies logic. She also runs a lot, an activity that has prompted comparisons to director Tom Tykwer’s 1998 Run Lola Run. Unlike Tykwer’s streamlined effort, Wright’s Hanna loads up on plot, boosting its adrenalin level with a throbbing Chemical Brothers score that amounts to musical fist pumping.
At the end of a movie, it’s sometimes interesting to imagine what might be next in the life of its main character. For Hanna, that question only can be answered in movie terms. What’s next? The only thing I could think of for this wholly unreal character was a sequel.
Put another way: I don’t think there are any proms or SATs in young Hanna’s future.