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Non-Review Review: Hanna

A special thanks to the guys over at movies.ie for sneaking us into an advanced preview screening.

If ever there was an odd choice for an early summer release, I think Hanna is it. Directed by Joe Wright (the guy who brought you Atonement) and starring an Oscar bait cast including Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett (with solid support from Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams), Hanna is the story of a teenage assassin set loose upon the world after a life spent in the wilderness. If that cocktail doesn’t sound crazy enough, Wright sets the movie as a fairy tale.

What’s genuinely astounding is how frequently these elements compliment each other, even if there are a few moments where they seem at odds.

Joe Wright takes a shot at directing an action film...

Hanna is essentially a fairytale. After the lead finds her way back to civilisation, a concerned hotel owner asks her where she came from. “The forest,” she replies. Attempting to confirm that her target is eliminated, Hanna writes a postcard to her father, “The witch is dead.” Chased through the streets of Berlin, Erik Heller is teased, “Run little piggy!” After completing her assignment, Hanna is directed to meet her father at Grimm’s House, a dilapidated amusement park in Berlin. The CIA agent chasing Hanna, Marissa Wiegler, spends most of the movie in green, the colour associated with the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (she even has slippers). Hell, there’s even a visit to grandma’s house and a trip down the throat of a big bad wolf involved.

Assisted by a score from the Chemical Brothers that cleverly mixes ambient noise with the musical soundtrack (to the point where it’s hard to tell what sound coming from the screen is diegetic or non-diegetic), this helps distinguish Wright’s effort from any other spy or assassination thriller. Indeed, using these archetypes – casting Hanna’s father as the huntsman from Snow White (or the father from Hansel & Gretel) and Wiegler as the evil queen (or wolf, given how the film focuses on her cleaning her shiny white teeth) – the movie gives us an idea of how Hanna must view her world. Locked away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, Hanna has nothing except a book of fairy tales and an encyclopedia to tell her of what the outside world is like – so it makes sense that she interprets it in those terms.

Given Carte Blanche(tt) to deal with the situation...

The big bad world is predatory. Hanna is well-trained and incredibly lethal, but she’s wholly unprepared for where her journey might take her. I love the fact that (with the exception of “I” and proper nouns), the subtitles are completely in lower case, flat and simplistic – there’s no capital letters to start sentences or punctuation to complicate things for our young lead (I wonder if the subtitle track on the DVD will keep this facet). It’s Saoirse Ronan’s central performance which will effectively make or break the film, and she’s well up to the challenge. Hanna is strong, and yet vulnerable. Speaking in an awkward and stilted German accent, Ronan is able to present the audience with a very lost little girl, but without leaning on too many common clichés. Hanna is restrained and relatively subtle, but she’s also incredibly sympathetic.

Wright seems an odd choice to direct a film which sound pretty much like a Hit Girl spin-off from Kick-Ass. Indeed, the trailers and the posters, featuring the eponymous deadly teenager wielding a pistol, play up the action angle. In fairness, Wright does struggle a bit when it comes to handling action sequences. There’s very much a sense that the director is consciously trying to emulate the work of another awards-favourite film maker who has proven he can handle action: Danny Boyle. Indeed, if you substitute the distinctive Chemical Brothers soundtrack for one of John Murphy’s ominous scores, a sequence where Hanna escapes from custody looks like it could have been lifted directly from 28 Days Later.

All's good on the hood...

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – there are worse influences to have, of course – but it seems that Wright is never entirely comfortable filming those action sequences. Some (such as a confrontation in a metro station and the second half of Hanna’s escape) come together quite well, but there are others (the brawl in Hanna’s cell or a chase through the docks) which seem awkwardly put together, as if the director is simply trying too hard. Still, the action scenes aren’t really central to the film, despite what the advertising would have you believe – and the rest of the movie is a lot more exciting.

However, what Wright has that makes him a great fit is the ability to run the emotional gauntlet. The movie needs to walk a line – it can’t be too serious or pretentious, because it’s basically about a kick-ass seventeen-year-old globe-trotting assassin; but it can’t be too light-hearted, because it’s not a farce and it’s a dramatic film. The movie is downright hilarious at times, especially the scenes in which we get to see Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng play off each other as a British couple who stumble across Hanna, or in a scene which sees Hanna on a date with a Spanish boy, but there’s always a genuine sense of dread bubbling away in the background.

I think it could be an underground hit...

The movie manages to imply a huge amount of sickness and depravity, especially when it comes to the goon squad that Wiegler ropes in to do her dirty work. It’s telling that the one time we do get to see the handiwork of Isaacs, it’s well past the climax of the film (and was heavily implied earlier when we saw him playing with a bow and arrow… with bloody fingers). Later on, the movie intentionally leaves the fates of various supporting characters ambiguous. It’s a nice move on the part of the film, because it forces the audience to really think about how those scenes we watched might have ended, had they gone on a few minutes longer.

It’s a shame that the movie isn’t quite the perfect blend of all its elements that it might have been. Despite Wright’s careful attempts to balance the picture, there are moments when the film veers just a little bit too far into the realm of a conventional espionage thriller, which isn’t a genre that plays to the director’s strengths. Instead, it’s the rest of the film, with its wonderful character development and creepy fairytale quality, that mark the film as one hat is definitely worth a watch. In fact, it’s something that myself and the better half agreed on, which makes it something special of itself.

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2 Responses

  1. i like so much

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