A kinetic action thriller of high quality, Hanna is as visually strong as it is emotionally engrossing, thanks to strong central performances and a welcome change of pace from director Joe Wright.
A change of strategy can be career suicide in an industry that goes by the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Wright’s bread and butter have come from his successive period films Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, where sweeping visuals and lavish costumes ruled. That he would continue to go against the grain after his dismal contemporary drama The Soloist proves Wright to be a director who is willing to take risks. Hanna is his payoff.
From a distance, Hanna might seem like your average revenge thriller, but it is anything but. The film opens in the cold winter chill of a conspicuous forest land, where we meet our title character (Saoirse Ronan) hunting down a deer, which will be skinned and eaten.
Since she was an infant, Hanna has been raised to kill and survive by her rogue CIA agent father Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Tough love is his rule, and Hanna has responded well, pulling off lethal moves that would make Chuck Norris quiver in his boots.
Yet a young lady she is, and the outside world is what Hanna yearns. Thus far her experience of the worlds many wonders have come from Encyclopaedia’s, which she can recite with machine precision. Even music is foreign to her.
But dad knows that it’s a big, bad world out there, especially when it’s inhabited by Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a corrupt CIA agent who holds a personal grudge against Erik and more than a special interest in Hanna.
From the wild and into civilisation Hanna goes, and thus begins a tale of super spies doing very bad things, and one girl trying to stay one step ahead of her persecutors while finding out who he really is.
What grabs you at first is the momentum. Wright’s always has the action moving forward, sometimes at a frantic pace. Even in the quiet moments (of which there are plenty), there is a sense of anxiousness and anticipation, buoyed by a pulsating and catchy industrial score by The Chemical Brothers.
Wright is now known as a masterful visual filmmaker, with his penchant for tracking shots especially evident here in a fight sequence (one of many), where Bana dispatches several agents in an underground station. It is a cleanly choreographed and shot action sequence, and is an example of Wright’s range as a filmmaker.
Style is then infused with substance, thanks to the writing and portrayal of its characters. Bana is imposing in his role as mentor/lethal weapon, and Blanchett is pitch perfect in her turn as the cold as ice, red headed, pants suit government operative, complete with inconspicuous southern accent.
Yet Hanna is as much Ronan’s film as it is Wright’s. On top of playing a convincing teen assassin, Ronan hits those dramatic moments with the same pinpoint precision as her character would a bullseye on a mark. Scenes where Hanna struggles with social situations are equally moving, comedic and tragic. Just as jaw dropping is her manhandling of opponents twice her size.
Hanna marks the second time Ronan and Wright have worked together (Atonementbeing the first). Considering the progression of their range and skills since then, one can only imagine what a third go will create.