You've got to hand it to director Joe Wright, at least for this much: He's moving farther and farther outside his wheelhouse as a filmmaker. And good for him—for a while, it was looking like he was destined to be the new go-to guy for period pieces, the spirit of Merchant and Ivory rolled into one young man. And that wouldn't have been such a bad thing; his first two films—Pride and Prejudice and Atonement—were both practically perfect, sumptuously stylish but also heavy on heart, rich in ravishing romance.
But his attention started to drift away from costume dramas with The Soloist, and now, with Hanna, he's ventured into something altogether different. This one is an action thriller, echoing any number of popular shoot-'em-up suspense flicks but perhaps none more than the bracing and brainy Bourne movies. But Hanna is nowhere close to perfect, the easy elegance and effortless grace of Pride and Atonement giving way to a jolting mash-up of styles and concepts. It's not a smooth ride by any means, but it is, if nothing else, a very interesting movie for its steady deployment of ideas alone.
The plot itself is a puzzle, one in which you have most of the pieces from the beginning but don't see the big picture until the climax. The movie starts in a snowy forest, where a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, from Atonement) is being raised by her father, Erik (Eric Bana, from Star Trek and The Time Traveler's Wife) in what appears to be complete isolation. There's something very strange about their circumstances from the beginning; we notice that Erik is training his daughter to be a proficient (and mercilessly brutal) hunter, that she is fluent in several languages, and that she has a wealth of knowledge about just about everything. And how could she not? The two of them pass their idle evenings together by reading from an encyclopedia.
And why exactly would young Hanna need this precise alignment of skills? Why, because she is being trained as a teenage assassin, of course. When she decides it's time to leave the forest and start a new life, she is given ample opportunity to put her skill set to the test, because a U.S. military official, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), wants both Hanna and her father dead. Erik leaves their cozy mountain cabin before government forces arrive; Hanna remains there and allows herself to be captured, but quickly escapes. Father and daughter are separate from each other for most of the movie, and are desperate to find each other once again even as Marissa and her odious henchman Isaacs (Tom Hollander, who worked with Wright in The Soloist) are in hot pursuit. It's an elaborate three-way chase, and, in its best moments, it's pretty exhilarating.
Some critics read the film as a critique of homeschooling, while others see it as an act of female empowerment. The second idea has more traction, if only because it's rare to see a brainy action movie with a female lead. But I find this notion dubious, as Hanna herself is not what I'd call brainy, exactly. Her personality is a blank slate—problematic, given that the movie revolves around her—and as a heroine she doesn't outsmart her opponents so much as she just flat-out murders them, typically with some brutality. I'm not sure how empowering this sort of thing is to anyone, really.
It's more interesting to view the movie as a sort of modern fairy tale, made explicit by a prominent placement of a Grimm's Fairy Tales volume in Hanna's life. Wright even compares Hanna to The Little Mermaid, and hints that he'd like to cast Ronan in a live-action take on the Hans Christian Andersen classic. This Mermaid comparison resonates, because Hanna is clearly a girl raised in one world but hungry for another; this is made most evident when she winds up in Morocco and is taken in by an RV-traveling British family, with whom she shares some moments of tenderness she was never allowed in her father's kill-or-be-killed world.
But these moments with the RV family come with some jostling tonal shifts; certainly the warmth and humor contained in them are a far cry from the sterile and stylish action scenes. And that's the thing with this movie; it's pitched somewhere halfway between the arthouse and the mainstream, between a thriller and a fairy tale, and not everything congeals. The different acts of the film work together about as well as Ronan's stoic performance does with Blanchett's garishly over-the-top cartoon character and affected Texas accent.
I give Wright credit, though, for the stylistic choices that really work; he is, for one thing, a shockingly good director of action scenes, with some well-choreographed set pieces that are truly world apart from anything in Pride and Prejudice. He also lands one other stylistic flourish, though I'm afraid it's in service of something fairly hollow. The final scene ends the movie on a vengeful and violent note; it's not about empowerment or even fairy tales, but simply of bloodshed. I'm afraid it's the kind of ending many audience members will find emotionally satisfying—never mind the fact that it leaves the story largely unresolved.Discussion starters
- Early in the film, Erik tells Hanna that they have everything they need; she responds by telling him that she craves something more. What does Hanna need that her isolated existence with her father cannot provide? And where, if anywhere, does she get it?
- How does Hanna compare to heroes and heroines you've seen in other action movies? Do you think this film "empowers" women?
- What principles does the Bible give that might be relevant to the topic of genetic engineering?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Hanna is rated PG-13 for action and violence, language, and sexual material. Take this warning seriously, especially with regard to the violence, which is often very brutal and bloody. It's a highly intense action movie that depicts some truly gruesome and merciless killings onscreen. The language consists of a few four-letter words, including one use of the f-word. The sexual material is mostly limited to frank discussion of sexual matters—including a mention of a dancer who has "both male and female genitalia"—but there is also a brief glimpse of a topless woman seen from the side (nothing explicit is shown).
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