Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan, is teenage girl being raised in the deep forest in Finland, near the Arctic Circle. Her father, Erik Heller, played by Eric Bana, is an ex-CIA asset, who uses tough love to teach his daughter all his survival tricks. His one motivation is to protect her, primarily by hiding her, but also by preparing her for the outside world, because he knows that she’s going to want to see it. The training is necessary because, for reasons I can’t explain without giving up the film’s secret (Don’t get excited; it’s not that great a secret), CIA operative and Erik’s former handler, Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett, wants to kill her. Erik eventually leaves the decision up to Hanna. She thinks she’s ready and she begins the process of leaving.

It turns out that she’s only partially ready. She has the physical stuff down, the martial arts, weapons training and spycraft. But when it comes to interacting with the modern world, she is wholly unprepared. A room with television and electric lights practically gives her a nervous breakdown. Her father gives her a cover story, one of those false histories that you see in a lot of spy films. He makes her repeat it back to him endlessly. But the first time she meets a girl her age, Sophie, played by Jessica Barden, she doesn’t work the invented history into casual conversation, the way her father expected her to, she just blurts it out. Hanna has never had a casual conversation.

This aspect of the story is pretty well thought out and executed. Hanna, although ultra-competent, makes the mistakes that you would expect someone in her position to make. She hooks up with Sophie’s family, not realizing the danger she’s putting them in, and even reveals the rendezvous point with her father to Sophie, putting herself and her father in danger. Hanna works as a film about a young girl adjusting to life as an adult in a world that’s alien to her. The director, Joe Wright, uses his camera to underscore Hanna’s confusion. It’s mostly handheld photography. There is a visual theme of things being upside down, especially the set of the final climax, which is an amusement park with a fairy tale house that has trees and mushrooms growing down from the ceiling. I would have stopped at rotating the camera like it was on a knife thrower’s wheel, however. That was just distracting.

As a spy story it’s not that original or well plotted. There are no new ideas here and some perplexing plot points that are never explained. On the other hand the action is pretty decent, and as I said, other aspects of the film make up for the plot’s un-originality.

The acting is good. Ronan continues her run of precocious performances showing us a Hanna that is capable of overcoming almost every challenge, but is still thrust in over her head at times, especially in situations that don’t call for violence. It would have been very easy to play Hanna as a heartless killing machine, but that’s not the way Ronan took it.  She also sees the wonder of the world and is enchanted by it. You never forget that Hanna is a young girl.

Erik Bana isn’t given much opportunity to stretch his acting muscles here but he’s fine as far as it goes. Cate Blanchett is wonderful as the villain. She plays a woman who has forgone a normal life. But now her past mistakes and choices are coming to light. It’s fascinating to see the vulnerability beneath her cracking professionalism and it provides a remarkable contrast to the title character.

Hanna has a charming European tone, especially the pace, which is slower than a breakneck American potboiler, but not glacial like a lot of projects from overseas. It is also eccentric in a very continental way. The music, by the Chemical Brothers is sprightly, providing a contrast with the action on-screen rather than reinforcing it, an interesting choice that mostly works. At one point one of the villains is whistling a tune that is immediately echoed on the soundtrack, which was distracting because it obviously was supposed to mean something, but I still haven’t figured out what.

Despite its flaws, Hanna is a pretty good coming of age film.


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