Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna

Hanna *** ½
Directed by: Joe Wright.
Written by: Seth Lochhead and David Farr.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Eric Bana (Erik), Cate Blanchett (Marissa), Jessica Barden (Sophie), Aldo Maland (Miles), Olivia Williams (Rachel), Jason Flemyng (Sebastian), Tom Hollander (Isaacs), Sebastian Hülk (Titch), Joel Basman (Razor).

If you stop and think about it, Hanna is an utterly ridiculous movie. Thankfully, the filmmakers never really give you a chance to stop and think about it. This is a movie that moves at a fast, exciting pace throughout – and yet, unlike most action movies, actually does find time for character development behind all the flash. Everyone in the film is a little more developed than they really have any right to be.

The movie opens in the arctic, where Hanna (Saorise Ronan) has been raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) to be a survivalist, and essentially, a killing machine. She speaks nearly every language there is, and can take down an elk with a bow and arrow from 100 yards. Although she has spent her life this way, she knows that there is something missing – something not quite right about the arrangement. Erik tells her that when she is ready, she can leave – but that until she kills a woman named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) then she will never be free. Hanna decides the time is now – so Erik digs out one of those fancy tracking devices with a flashing light on top and tells her to flip the switch. Once she does, Marissa will know where they are. The two then split up, and agree to meet in Berlin. The game is on.

What follows is a cross continent chase, where basically Marissa tries to track and kill Hanna – and Hanna meets up with a more “normal” family and sees what life is like for most of us. There is a lot of nonsense about genetic engineering, but the filmmakers do not take it very seriously. They need it to give the story a reason for existing, but they tick it off and move on.

What impressed me about the film is the direction of Joe Wright. Up until now, he has been known for his costume dramas – Pride and Prejudice and Atonement – and his failed musical drama The Soloist. Wright is excellent at his period pieces, as his version of Pride and Prejudice may just be my favorite Jane Austen adaptation ever, and Atonement, which brought Ronan to the Oscars as one of the youngest nominees ever, had a tragic weight that is tough to get right. Here, he is one of the exact opposite end of the cinematic spectrum, and once again, he delivers the goods in a difficult genre. I think that Wright, as much as he liked making those other films, may have felt a little trapped in the period setting – so in Hanna, he lets it all hang out and goes for it with gusto. The film has as much style as a Michael Bay or Zack Snyder movie, but in this case, the style actually works and is not just a bunch of prepubescent stylings of making things look really cool. Aided a great deal by a terrific, pulsating techno score by The Chemical Brothers, he makes Hanna a stylish, violent action movie.

Wright is also aided a great deal by the performances. I don’t think there is another young actress who could have played the calm, cool psychopath at the heart of the movie like Ronan does. She has piercing blue eyes, and yet there is something missing in them in this film – certain humanity. She is playing at being normal, when underneath lurks the heart of a killer. In some ways, you could compare her character to the one Chloe Grace Mortez did such a great job at playing in last year’s Kick Ass – the difference being, here it isn’t played for laughs. It’s deadly serious. Add this to her resume that includes her Oscar nominated work in Atonement, her brilliant work in the flawed The Lovely Bones, and her great work in yet another flawed film, The Way Back, and I think it’s safe to say that Ronan has built up the best resume of any actress under 20. Eric Bana, that talented Australian actor who for some reason has never really become a movie star, plays his secretive role brilliantly well. He tries to protect Hanna, while preparing her at the same time. His role is not very vocal, but he does a lot with a little. Tom Hollander is having a blast as an evil man Marissa hires to track down Hanna. Best of all is Cate Blanchett, doing an over the top American accent, and chewing the scenery wonderfully well as the evil Marissa. It’s the best role of its kind since Meryl Streep in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

Hanna is a superbly entertaining movie from start to finish. No, you cannot take it all that seriously, but who the hell would want to? It is an action movie where the camera is actually used properly – no shaky camera effects here that make it impossible for the audience to orient itself to the action. And although you can probably predict the final line of the movie, it is a killer.

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