Watching Hanna, it’s easy to see why there was so much buzz around Seth Lochhead and David Farr’s screenplay in the few years before the film went into production; the story of the mysterious young warrior is structured in a way that immediately draws the viewer in, and keeps us constantly guessing as the details of her enigmatic past steadily come into focus. The opening scenes of the young girl hunting in the frozen tundra possess a unique serenity that is quickly punctured by a violent act that will ultimately bring the movie full circle, but not before we embark on a thrilling adventure that takes us to picturesque locations throughout Africa and Europe.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) may look like your typical teenage girl, but she's a trained killer who has spent her entire life preparing for one mission. Schooled in the arts of survival and killing by her secretive father, Erik (Eric Bana), Hanna finally reaches the age when she must put her skills to the test, and activates the tracking device that will summon cunning intelligence operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett). It’s the moment Marissa has been anticipating for years, yet almost as soon as she has Hanna in her grasp, the girl is gone. Determined not to let her target slip away, Marissa recruits the sadistic Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his skinhead thugs to track Hanna down as Erik makes his way to a secret, pre-arranged meeting place in Berlin. Later, as agents close in from all sides and Hanna finally gets her target in the crosshairs, the trained assassin uncovers some secrets from the past that stir the conscience she never knew she had, and cause her to question everything she has ever known.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to put a new spin on a familiar genre, and that’s precisely what director Joe Wright brings to Hanna. A filmmaker with no discernible background in the action genre, Wright seems to value style and characterization in equal measure. As a result, our eyes are constantly drawn to the many visual flourishes so prevalent throughout the film while our attention stays consistently focused on the characters and their plight. Even in moments when the pacing feels slightly off, it’s this compelling balance that ensures we never fully disconnect from the story. And though Wright’s inexperience in the genre does occasionally seep through in scenes that find him falling back on the shaky-cam style so pervasive in post-Bourne Identity action cinema, other fight scenes, such as a confrontation in a Berlin subway station, show a refreshing flair for choreography and long takes that helps to set Hanna apart. A driving score by the Chemical Brothers keeps the story moving along at a satisfying pace, and proves an ideal match for the chilly, carefully composed imagery Wright creates alongside veteran cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler (Morvern Callar, Sunshine).
It would have been easy to craft Hanna as a one-dimensional action romp about a teenage terminator, but by providing the character with a few friends along the way (including young Jessica Barden, who’s fantastic as a materialistic tween brat with a soul), Lochhead and Farr afford her the opportunity to explore her humanity while raising some fascinating questions about the experiments that spawned her. Still, it could be said that the less time one spends reflecting on their screenplay the better, as convenience occasionally takes precedence over coherence, and one fairly crucial plot point is completely abandoned once it no longer serves the narrative.
With icy, inquisitive eyes that never stop scanning her surroundings, Ronan does an impressive job of portraying a young girl raised in such intense isolation that she has never even heard music nor seen a television, and as her father, Bana does commendable work with a character who is alternately ruthless and nurturing -- occasionally in the same scene. Blanchett obviously relishes her opportunity to indulge in a thick Southern drawl, and Hollander brings a distinct sense of flair to his role as a vicious contractor charged with capturing the elusive girl.
Despite the fact that there’s precious little originality in a plot about a killer on the run (or even an adolescent assassin for that matter), Hanna stands apart from the pack because it was directed with a strong creative vision and written in an involving, compelling style. Throw all of those elements together along with some impressive visuals and a pumping electronica score, and the result is an action film that, much like its main character, is slick enough to dodge a few bullets while it’s running, yet, despite appearances, not impervious to them.
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