Monday, March 5, 2012

Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett

It is hard to imagine that director Joe Wright would follow up his grand period pieces, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, with such an adrenaline rush of a film like Hanna.  Having seen Atonement and Hanna (and hearing good things about Pride and Prejudice), it is clear that this is a man of considerable talent.  After earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Atonement, the young Saoirse (pronounced "sur-shuh") Ronan has proven that she has the talent to carry a film herself.
The film’s tone is set from the beginning as we watch Ronan’s Hanna finish her father’s brutal training regimen in the icy forests of Finland.  Eric Bana plays the father, an ex-CIA operative who went into seclusion after his CIA handler murdered of his wife (Hanna’s mother).  He has completely sheltered his daughter from the outside world since then, spending the next 14 years training for their dangerous revenge mission against his old handler, Cate Blanchett, and her colleagues.  When the first domino in their plan is tipped over at the fifteen-minute mark, Hanna becomes a wild and exciting thrill ride.
I hesitate to get into too much detail regarding the great game of cat-and-mouse Hanna becomes, a game in which the roles of Blanchett’s cat and Ronan’s mouse are often interchangeable.  There are so many twists regarding Hanna’s mysterious history and incredible skills that are best to be experienced blindly.  I can freely discuss its breakneck pace, stylized action, and Ronan’s excellent performance.
A film’s musical score can be a powerful tool.  Some films call for the score to be barely noticed while in others, it becomes an iconic characteristic.  What remains crucial is for the score to effectively accompany the film’s tone.  The music in Hanna is over-the-top without being distracting, like the film’s style and action is over-the-top without being obnoxious.  The Chemical Brothers’ pulsating electronic score accompanies the action perfectly, from its high energy beats during Hanna’s prison escape to the creepily haunting melodies that plays at a Berlin underworld burlesque show where Blanchett meets with one of her most devious accomplices.   Each musical piece is very memorable; I found myself having trouble getting it out of my head (and didn’t find it to be a nuisance). 
Hanna is filled with exciting set pieces as Hanna treks her way across Europe (with the help of an unsuspecting British family on vacation) to reunite with her father in Berlin.  Along the way she must put her brutal training to test to escape Blanchett and her evil henchmen.  Despite being a slender teenage girl, Saorise Ronan convincingly takes on each battle, using Hanna’s superior knowledge and skill as leverage over the brute strength of her foes.  And Joe Wright doesn’t shy away from the action with series of jump cuts, but rather pulls back and lets you take in each beautifully choreographed sequence.   
I want to avoid the trap of selling Hanna short as merely an exciting thriller (not that that is necessarily has to be a shortcoming).  I say this because Saoirse Ronan does not portray Hanna as just the icy killer that she is but also a wide-eyed young girl taking in the world outside her isolated life in the Finnish forests for the first time.  For her first 16 years, Hanna’s only understanding of the wider world was from encyclopedias that her father read to her.  She is a multi-lingual, highly trained assassin who is desperate to hear her first piece of music and make her first friend.  Subtle scenes such as her first experiments with electricity (a florescent light that amazes her) or the realization that she has a friend in the daughter of that vacationing British family are just as memorable as Hanna’s most intense action sequences.  Ronan’s performance combines strength and innocence to make her character so interesting, machinelike but vulnerable.  At only 17, Saoirse Ronan is already an actress whose films I will firmly place on my radar.  In supporting roles, Eric Bana’s harsh but caring father and Cate Blanchett’s coldly evil CIA agent take command of each scene they are in as well.

Hanna has a lot of the ingredients I often seek in a film.  It is filled with incredibly stylized action without becoming overindulgent and distracting, interspersed within powerful drama highlighted by great performances.  And there is just the right amount of creepy oddness to it.  It is like an adolescent Kill Bill meets the Bourne moviesmixed with a touching father-daughter relationship/coming-of-age tale, and with flourishes of some David Lynch-ian weirdness.  Hanna is that arthouse action thriller with an appeal that the masses might be able to get behind. 

Mark it 8. 

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