I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of “Hanna” when I walked into the pre-release screening. Lackeys from the local radio station were working hard warming up the crowd into a fiendish frenzy with promotional T-shirts, posters and lame rap CDs.
It was not really the calm affair I was expecting, but I had some time before the lights dimmed to reflect on something I had read recently by Orson Scott Card while browsing the introduction to “Ender’s Game.”
What I’d read by Card was this:
“I felt a strong desire to write stories that would do for others what Asimov’s story had done for me. In other genres, that desire is usually expressed by producing thinly veiled rewrites of the great work: Tolkien’s disciples far too often simply rewrite Tolkien, for example.
In science fiction, however, the whole point is that the ideas are fresh and startling and intriguing; you imitate the great ones, not by rewriting their stories, but rather by creating stories that are just as startling and new.”
“Hanna” is very much a fantasy/fairy tale movie, and while it’s not science fiction, it does convey an old story in a unique and original way. Visually and thematically, the movie is modern translation of “Little Red Riding Hood” with some “Bourne Identity” thrown in to keep things interesting and moving forward.
The title character – played by actress Saoirse Ronan – lives in Finnish forest with her father, Erik Heller (played by Eric Bana). Secluded from the rest of modern society, Hanna is being trained to be the best assassin the world has ever known.
Hanna is smart, multilingual (Saoirse speaks French, Spanish, German, Italian and Arabic at various points in the movie), strong, swift and cunning. Everything she knows about the outside world is through a collection of encyclopedias her father reads to her every night before she goes to sleep.
When she thinks she has finally trained enough for what is to come, Hanna flips the switch on an emergency transponder and is then thrown feet first into a dangerous world against her ruthless CIA opponent, Marissa Weigler (played by Cate Blanchett), who is determined to keep the truth about Hanna from becoming public.
The Good: Visual Poetry, Music and Memorable Characters
“Hanna” is about as gorgeous as any one film can get and not be a nature documentary.
Director Joe Wright has a way of taking what would be a standard establishing shot and making it beautiful and memorable. Every non-action shot in “Hanna” is like an individual painting; elements that would have been ignored in other films like a reflection or a blink of an eye are highlighted and made as important as what is being said.
The movie is pure visual poetry; it has prose, pacing and language that draw in an audience and keeps a firm grasp on their eyeballs – and ears – until the last frame. Wright pays attention to the little details and that is what really makes Hanna stand out.
Personally, my favorite moment in the movie is when Hanna’s father Erik is traveling through a bus station somewhere in Berlin. It is a four minute tracking shot that ends with a “Bourne Identity”-esque fight scene that is simply brilliant in its execution and still amazes me when thinking about its complexity and brutality.
Fortunately, Wright doesn’t stay on one camera gimmick for long, which I’m grateful for. Too often directors find one thing that looks cool and then over use it to the point that it becomes as pointless as the rest of the movie. Gimmicks like this normally annoy me in action films, but in “Hanna” it is not over used.
By way of illustration, the start of the film follows Hanna while she is hunting a deer in the woods. The camera tracks along looking at her in the forest, and as it passes behind a tree, she disappears with an almost Ninja-like ability.
Half the time, the effect is recreated just by having Hanna disappear during cycles in a strobe light or just by having her round a corner and eluding the camera following her. But the great thing is, it feels new and unique each time because it is used sparingly.
The characters in “Hanna” are amazingly complex and fully rounded. Saoirse, while still young, commands the lead role as Hanna. Her wild-eyed fascination at discovering the modern world is believable and draws the audience in.
Backing up Saoirse is a veteran cast with Eric Bana, Cate Blanchet and Tom Hollander who lend credibility to their characters and flesh them out making them feel real to the audience.
The real stand-out supporting character throughout the film, however, is Tom Hollander as Isaacs. Hollander plays probably one of the most satisfyingly creepy and evil characters I have ever had the pleasure of hating.
While Marissa Wiegler is the primary antagonist in the movie, Isaacs is the one who performs the “wet work,” and gets his hands bloody for her.
When the audience is introduced to Isaacs, they are also introduced to his musical motif – which sounds like a sadistic version of “Whistle While You Work.” [video_lightbox_youtube video_id=evJelMKDKiw width=640 height=480 anchor=This] evil little tune got stuck in my head really quickly as Isaacs whistles it every time he is even remotely in a scene.
One cannot talk about “Hanna” and not talk about the impeccable score composed by The Chemical Brothers. Having never listened to The Chemical Brothers before this film, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was their score is intense, visceral and, at times, almost reminiscent of a video game.
Going in, I was expecting a score along the lines of “Tron: Legacy,” with every second of film having music and driving beats. The truth however, is that most of “Hanna” is very quiet with overt score coming in at appropriate moments.
To me, it seems like parts of the music were cut to the film and parts of the film were cut to the music. It is a very well groomed part of the film, and I want to go to see it again to understand the play between the editing and the score.
I do think there is part of this movie that one would consider a character study on music and how it can change the affect of a scene. At several points, there are quiet moments where Hanna just stops and listens to music being played in front of her or what is occurring naturally.
However, it’s hard to tell whether this musical education was an intentional collaboration between Joe Wright and The Chemical Brothers or just something that came out of how the film was structured.
The Bad: Climax and its problem
Gosh, as much as I love this film and how it has met and surpassed my expectations, I still have a couple of nagging problems that I have to address.
Had it not been for the breadth of the acting talent in this film, I honestly believe that it would have been a horrible train wreck. The script is weak, and occasionally makes a good point, but it is largely dependent on visuals and emotion filled shots to drive home what is being said.
The biggest most glaring issue with it however, is the thematic climax.
Hanna’s discovery of her past and why she has lived her whole life eating deer jerky somewhere in Finland is lost amid everything else going on in the film. It just has no punch and no reason to be in this film mainly because it’s this grand government conspiracy in a movie that for the majority was a very personal character study.
In short, it was lame.
Final Thoughts and Favorite Moments
“Hanna” is a must-see for anyone who has been wanting entertainment of substance for the past four months. It is a gorgeous film about growing up and how those with power devolve into deranged lunatics.
Joe Wright is not an action director, and I don’t really hold that against him because this film isn’t really about super complicated fight sequences. “Hanna” is not a shoot-em-up type of action film and it doesn’t try to be. It finds a happy medium between “Bourne Identity” and “Atonement” and makes no apology for that. If Joe Wright were to split “Hanna” up into a film in each of those styles, you would still have two really well delivered piece of cinema.
So now if you were to ask me for three specific reasons why this film is worth seeing, I would say the following:
- Eric Bana channeling his inner Jason Bourne and being completely awesome.
- Tom Hollander, Tom Hollander, Tom Hollander! I have to say it three times cause he is so fun to watch.
- Cate Blanchett speaking in a Southern accent.