Hanna (2011)

Snow White meets Luc Besson

With Hanna, Joe Wright claimed that he was influenced by the fairytales he read as a child, but while the fairytale references are (overtly) present, I suspect Wright owes more to Luc Besson than the Brothers Grimm. Hanna follows the journey of it’s titular child assassin (played by Saoirse Ronan, pictured above), a journey that largely consists of running as fast as she can from ruthless CIA director Marlene (Cate Blanchett), while trying to locate her father (Eric Bana). Ronan’s performance alone makes the film worth watching. She instinctively understands what viewers only realise later in the film: at its heart, Hanna is a coming of age story.

Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler does a lovely job behind the camera, giving the film a surrealistic, almost comic book feel, fitting of its fairytale premise. The film’s vibrant and varied colour palette along with compositions that are highly graphical, and often symmetrical and masculine make for some impressive scenes which stay in the mind after the credits have rolled. Action heavy sequences are handled with particular deftness. Bana’s fight in the Berlin underground is achieved in a single long-take and is perhaps the most resonant scene of the film because of this. It is a sublime piece of cinema and a wonderful treat three-quarters in.

The film contains some great temporal surprises, beginning in a (Grimm-esque) snowy forest and almost convincing the viewer that they are the witness of an older, more primitive space before revealing the jarringly modern world beyond. The film alternates the modern with the old world throughout, ensuring that the viewer never gets bored with the scenery, even as the plot loses steam in places. The fusing of these spaces is enjoyable, but the pastiche of directorial styles does more harm than good to the film. The scene in which Hanna is interrogated and escapes the underground CIA facility begins like Kubrick and ends like Besson. While this sounds wonderful in theory, I found myself wishing Wright would just make up his mind about who he wants to be.

Hanna’s encounters with modernity and her reactions to it are the film’s primary source of humour. While this kind of set up is not entirely original, it works well here. Her ‘first date’ proves nearly fatal to the hapless boy in question. ‘It was nice,’ she tells him after nearly snapping his neck. Her first encounter with a television is eerie. Her confused responses to the precocious Sophie (Jessica Barden) are perfectly pitched. Ronin has created a character who is endearingly vulnerable and naïve despite her formidable skills as a trained assassin. Even in the fiercest fight scenes, she manages to convey a sense of benevolence, an unwillingness to cause harm, an empathy for her quarry.

While Ronin shines (one to watch for, I’ll wager), the usually brilliant Cate Blanchett’s performance comes across as strangely workmanlike and out of tempo with the rest of the film. I’m sad to say it, but she is the weakest element of Hanna. Assumedly aiming for a restrained portrayal of the ‘wicked witch’ archetype, she instead comes across as oddly sterile, never quite convincing the audience of her character’s investment in proceedings. An unexpected disappointment.

The soundtrack, supplied by the Chemical Brothers, is utterly fantastic. Their multi-layered and thoughtful score blurs the boundaries between music and foley, appropriating itself effortlessly between pounding action driven episodes and the films quieter, emotional moments.

Despite its handful of flaws, Hanna is an engaging and often surprising film that certainly deserves more attention than it received upon its limited theatrical release. This week saw it released on DVD and Blu-Ray with a decent amount of extras included, and I would urge fans of Euro-action fare to check it out before it becomes that cult film you never heard of.