Running time: 111 mins
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana
Genre: Action, Thriller
Following up on last month’s review of The Heat is another offering from the action genre boasting a teenage girl as the hardest action hero with long blonde hair since Dolph Lundgren.
Saoirse Ronan is Hanna, a teenage girl living in the bleak, cold abyss of nature with her disciplinarian father Erik (Eric Bana) and dreaming of more than his nightly stories plucked from between the pages of aging textbooks. As she grows more and more inquisitive of the surrounding world, music, and life he presents her with a choice, a red button, a locator that will bring a shadowy CIA agent (played by Cate Blanchett) back on to their trail and ultimately a kill or be killed scenario for the youth. As Hanna takes off across Europe and
North Africa it becomes
unclear who is friend, who is foe, and who is hunting who.
There are many, many things I love about Hanna. Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) steps out from behind the "appropriately British" genre desk and into a real challenge, but it’s a challenge that he not only excels at but is a movie that only a director so heavily removed from the trappings of the genre could make. Not only is the central character a heavy deviation from the genre expectations but the casting of Blanchett as the hardened, sociopathic killer (a role historically masculine) provides a wonderful counterbalance to the young girl that grew up with only the influence of her strict father. But this is not just a movie built on gender defiance, this is a movie that’s seemingly intent on breaking as many rules as possible in order to show a new wave of cinema. Much like Anton Corbijn’s The American, Hanna is an incredibly striking, visually rich film. The colour palette through the film is strong but is at it’s strongest during moments of menace and conflict. Moments that, traditionally, we’ve been led to believe must appear on screen as straightforward, heavily edited and stylistically neutral as possible in order to stitch the audience into the fabric of the film, the fabric of believability. Wright’s mise-en-shot outs this as a falsity. Not only does he heavily stylise these moments, the beauty of the lighting contrasted against the menace of the cargo container interrogations for one, but he allows his camera, his gaze to linger. It passes beyond the initial awkwardness, through any audience discomfort and into a hyper-reality of presentation. It has the artifice of a nightmare yet knowing it is not real does not make it any less thrilling or engaging.
Similarly the use of music and score in these moments are super stylish and incredibly inviting to the audience. It’s a sensory invitation that’s too alluring to resist, one that creates connecting audio threads between sequences. It’s Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter for the rave generation. Beautiful.
The casting, as you might guess by now, is fantastic. Eric Bana gives the best performance since Chopper as Erik Heller, the rogue FSB operative. He has a hardness to him that’s born out of desperation to keep safe his most precious gift. It’s tough yet impossibly soft as at the end of the day he is a father first. The physicality in his performance is second to none, it’s clear that Bana has thrown himself head first into the role in ways that (recently) he, perhaps, has not. Blancett (Marissa Wiegler) is even more hardened that Bana, less emotive and wholly crazed yet the years behind a desk has softened her which is beautifully illustrated when, frozen under fire, she tells her body to move. Her “bad guy” role is one that would instinctively been written for a man yet I defy anyone to show me someone who could have given more attack and menace that Blanchett. She is utterly inhuman, ruthless, and with zero redeeming qualities – completely mesmerising. And then there’s Saoirse Ronan. Hers is by far the finest piece of nuance acting I’ve seen in a young actor in twenty years…maybe more…revise where applicable. You could sing and sing about her physicality in the role, her strength in presence and screen presence in order to carry the film but the brilliance of her turn is more than this. Her brilliance is in the subtlies that lesser performances would have neglected. The hotel sequence in Morocco, during her first encounter with technology and the twenty-first century, requires timing, intelligence and a self confidence that is normally not associated with one so young. The honesty in her performance stops it from falling into the land of ham, it creates an emotional connection between the character (who is a killer) and the audience, a sympathetic bond that fleshes out what could be a two-dimensional character. There’s a strong supporting cast filling out the two hours of Hanna. Jessica Barden (as Sophie) is great. She’s given a lot to do in little time and some of Ronan’s strongest scenes are with Barden as their friendship blossoms on the road. Tom Hollander puts in a shift and a half as the psychopathic nightclub owner hired to track down young Hanna. There’s hints in the characterisation that he’s the son/grandson of an exiled Nazi war criminal adding another dirty dimension to the political sphere of the film. Hollander is an interesting piece of casting, very much against type but unlike Blanchett and Ronan is a little out of his depth and some of his more menacing moments come across a little more mincing.
There are a few moments of issue, a few plots holes, moments of (il)logic that are problematic plus the initial impetus is perhaps a little simplistic. It works though, the link to Grimm fairytales almost invites its simplicity and the rest of the problems are either unimportant or forgiveable. Hanna is a superior and stunning action film.