BOTTOM LINE: Even a strong cast can’t save this action-thriller from director Joe Wright’s stylistic pretensions.
I did not expect Hanna. That is, I knew I wanted to see the movie when I first came across the trailer several months ago, but I didn’t know exactly what kind of movie it would be. Even so, what I saw still caught me off guard.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), the arthouse thriller centers on Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl trained to kill without mercy by her father, Erik (Eric Bana). The two of them live alone in a little hut in the arctic. For the most part, Erik, a former CIA op, seems content with their life, but Hanna keeps insisting she’s ready to survive on her own. Eventually, her father agrees to release her. She turns off the device hiding her location, he escapes with a promise to meet her in Berlin, and within hours, Hanna is captured and whisked away to a secret holding room.
Under the watchful eyes of Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a ruthless intelligence agent whose only purpose in life seems to be getting rid of Eric and Hanna, agents drill Hanna for information. Hanna kills them all off one-by-one, before escaping into the Moroccan desert. There, she meets a tourist family and befriends their airheaded daughter, played for many laughs by Jessica Barden. Hanna spends some time traveling with the family and learning how life works on the outside, but she’s eventually forced to leave them when Marissa’s people come looking for her. The rest of the film unfolds in a three-way cat-and-mouse game, as Hanna and Erik swim, leap and run (and run and run) to get to Berlin, while Marissa does everything in her power to stop them. However, when the characters finally collide, a revelation about Hanna’s true identity throws dampens the happy father-daughter reunion.
Story-wise, there’s nothing remarkable about Hanna — no out-of-the-blue twist, no surprise ending. The script is well-written, though it has a slightly rushed ending (which actually kind of works on screen). What really thew me off was the artsy tone of the film. I expected a standard action-thriller after watching the trailer. Instead, I got a surreal hybrid of Alice in Wonderland and Unknown.
Wright’s risky stylistic choices will work for some people, but I found them pointlessly distracting. It was like dressing a sheep in wolf’s clothing — no amount of flashy costume could distract from the inherently harmless story. The dizzying, colourful sequences work to some extent when Hanna stops in Morrocco and Spain, but they just don’t mesh with the film’s overall dreary, snowy backdrop. A pounding, relentless score stifles the action, while split-second cuts confuse viewers who just want to see a good ol’ slaughtering. The climax of the final chase, which takes place in a bizarre fairytale-like amusement park, feels particularly inorganic.
Nevertheless, Ronan, Blanchett, and Bana shine so brightly in their roles that plot and coherence aren’t even necessary. Ronan is particularly impressive as the naive but tough-skinned Hanna, bringing an air of cautious curiosity to the character without wasting any dialogue. Blanchett is genuinely unsettling as Marissa — there’s one scene where she calmly scrubs her teeth until they bleed that had audience members groaning and covering their eyes. And Bana, despite not being given much to work with, holds his own as a supporting character.
If you can handle pretension in large doses (read: Across the Universe, Black Swan, Hulk), you’ll probably enjoy Hanna. If not, expect to leave the theatre unimpressed and unsatisfied.