Director: Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist)
Writer: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13
You’ve seen Hanna before. From Angelina Jolie’s Salt to Kill Bill‘s The Bride, from Jason Bourne to Wolverine. In the business they call it genre, and this film is steeped in it (the kind of a film that makes Quentin Tarantino and Stephen King end-of-the-year lists). Without divulging much in the way of spoilers, Hanna is the story of a CIA asset that goes missing only to be found and, as you would expect, all shit breaks loose. Sprinkled about this mayhem is an affecting coming-of-age story wherein the unstoppable Frankenstein monster is a fourteen year old girl who wants to know what music feels like as much as she wants revenge. In lesser hands this delicate balance of genres would upset one or the other fan bases, but with Hanna, director Joe Wright is somehow able to maintain the momentum of both the emotional story and the high-octane action without doing a disservice to either. The result appears effortless, a steady stream of event movie-making on par with anything of the Bourne franchise.
Saoirse Ronan walks the razor’s edge of cool and vulnerable in her performance of Hanna – this curious vision of a doe-eyed, blood-speckled assassin is just one of the joys of the film. Added to this is a stellar supporting cast: Eric Bana as Hanna’s father and sole provider, Cate Blanchett (rocking a Scully do) as the formidable CIA opponent, Joe Wright regular, Tom Hollander, as the whistling psychopath-for-hire, and even a bit part for Olivia Williams as a hippie mom caught in the middle. Hollander’s Isaacs is a stand-out and a fascinating turn for this character actor typically resigned to playing daft weaklings, here, despite his stature, Isaacs is channeling Dennis Hopper from Blue Velvet, running head-on towards whatever damage he can administer.
With Hanna, Wright continues to show-off his talents for creating breathtaking visuals, but here perhaps more so than in his other films the bravado is suited to the story. Added to his arsenal is a surprisingly adept handling of action, at times indulging in the virtuoso of one-take tracking shots over the ease of multiple cuts. Though nowhere as ambitious as the notorious one-take tracking shot in Atonement, the several interspersed in Hanna are better integrated, showing-off for sure, but not to the detriment of the story. Likewise, the hyper-stylized world of Hanna fits the story, and when, in the third act a Grimm Fairytale Amusement Park becomes an opportunity to indulge in visual flare, it is established and justified within the narrative of Hanna. This tightening of intention without letting go of ambition makes Hanna Wright’s most successful experiment of style, hitting that sweet balance of style and substance.
I leave the best for the last. The music. My God, the music. The first part of the film plays up the absence of sound, the absence of music in Hanna’s ascetic life in the woods. But when the outer world crashes into her own, and Chemical Brothers turn their amps to eleven, and Wright turns the cool factor up to eleven, and bad things happen to bad people, and the pulsing of the beats matches the pulsing of your heart, it is fist-pumping brilliance. Wright has had a penchant for creative uses of sound in his movies, from the typewriter score in Atonement to the abstract expression of music in The Soloist, and in Hanna he refines this experiment even further, making soundscapes out of action-sequences. The best comparison for what Wright pulls off with these soundscapes in Hanna is Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run, as in fact, Hanna spends the majority of the film running like Franka Potente, just to far better music. After the calm before the storm in the first act, the film is wall-to-wall music, and not just Chemical Brothers, but a nice mix of rock, ethnic folk music, classical, sometimes bleeding into the pulsating beats of Chemical Brothers, playing into the natural flow of the film.
With Hanna, Wright delivers the goods. The sins of The Soloist are hereby duly absolved. His latest is a calling card to any of the big action franchises, if he so wished to have them. It is straight-up genre filmmaking as good as it gets, the movie makes a promise of what it is going to do and delivers.