Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Hanna

110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Joe Wright's Hanna is so detached and so mechanically cold, that the viewer has no real stake in the narrative. It features, at its core, two opposing forces, both of questionable morality, who pursue each other all over Europe with a reckless and relentless abandon. If you have any sympathy at all, it won't be for the young assassin or her ice-cold nemesis, but rather for all the innocent saps who get killed along the way. The picture may be a stylish reworking of "Little Red Riding Hood", but at its core it is detached, resulting in a lack of investment. Despite the arty pretense and polished cast, Joe Wright's action debut is almost as hollow and junky as the kind of low-IQ mainstream thriller that it attempts to surpass.

A token amount of plot: Young Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised in the wild, trained at survival, adaptation, and the various means of killing by her mysterious father (Eric Bana). It appears that she has been training all her life to eventually take revenge on the US intelligence operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett) who has some secrets of her own. After arbitrarily deciding that she is indeed ready, her father sets in motion a chain of events that will put Hanna on a path of revenge while exposing her to the outside world for the first time. Hanna surely already knows how to kill, but does she know how to live? And will she be able to escape the clutches of her enemies, and what will be the price she pays for her own survival and/or attempts at revenge?

Hanna is arguably the iciest mainstream action picture since John Frankenheimer's Ronin. That in itself is not a problem. But while that espionage thriller had a number of crackerjack action sequences (including arguably the best cinema car chase ever) and an ensemble cast to play around with, Hanna spends much of its middle hour with young Saoirse Ronan wandering by herself in pursuit of or attempting to escape one would-be enemy after another with little to no genuine action or character development. After a moody and nearly dialogue-free initial reel, the film comes to a head with an exciting and brutally violent chase sequence that sets the picture in motion and establishes the stakes. But after Hanna's blood-drenched escape from enemy forces, the film slows to a crawl as the young would-be assassin finds herself hanging out with a vacationing family while Hanna's father Erik kills his way to the agreed-upon safe house (grandmother's house, no less).

Aside from the lack of any real drama in this 'self-discovery' middle portion, the only interest comes in our realization that all three main characters are amoral killing machines. Hanna's father, Marissa, and Marissa's henchmen have no qualms about slaughtering innocent people, and Hanna's actions result in the deaths of quite a few innocents. From an emotional and moral point of view, we're not rooting for any of them. Sure, it's made quite clear that Hanna's actions stem from a certain naivety about the way the world works and her ignorance about life outside her secluded woodland home. But that doesn't make us any more likely to root for her to continue her single-minded mission; collateral damage be damned. One could argue that we're supposed to be entertained as Hanna learns a bit about life from the family that she has hitched a ride with, bonding with their like-aged daughter (Jessica Barden) and their mother (Olivia Williams). But in truth, we simply spend that very large section of the film (pretty much the whole middle hour) wanting Hanna to leave her newfound friends the hell alone before she gets them killed.

All of this is a shame as the film's technical merits are impressive. The acting is solid across the board, with Saorise Ronan giving another terrifically performance as a genuinely feral hunter who is coping with her first experiences of being a human being. Cate Blanchett is obscenely entertaining as the villain/big bad wolf of the piece, and the film lights up whenever she's doing her dirty business. And, if I may, she looks hotter than hell, dressed to kill with a perfect red-headed bob. I've had a thing for 'Cate the Great' since 1999, and this movie reminds me why. Eric Bana's woodsman/father has little to do after the first reel, but he does get the best action scene in the picture; a circular-panning fight scene against three henchmen that seems that it was achieved in a single take or two. God how I love action scenes that aren't edited to death... Tom Hollander stands out as a henchman who basically likes to whistle while he works (the Chemical Brothers score is pretty terrific too).

Hanna remains an artful and occasionally exciting piece of action filmmaking. But aside from the technical aspects and a few fine performances, the film has little to offer from a narrative and/or emotional standpoint. The film at its core is basically about a young girl brainwashed into an amoral killing machine to be let loose on a murderous advisory, with little thought to the consequences. And since both sides are technically on the side of evil, there is little an engaged viewer can do other than turn their brain off and enjoy the action as mindless spectacle. Not to bring other films into this, but if you're among those who trashed Kick-Ass last year and whined about Sucker Punch last month, you have no business giving Hanna a pass because it's 'cool' in an arthouse kinda way.

Grade: C

1 comment:

danish said...

Hanna is a fantastically paced action thriller that features strong performances from a powerful cast and a storyline that's rounded out in the best of ways. Eric Bana nearly steals the show at times while you may want to kill Cate Blanchett at other times for her Texan accent alone, but Saoirse Ronan puts in a performance that may be the best of her career thus far.

Top it off with a spectacular soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers, and Hanna becomes one of the first must-see films of the year that is both intelligent and features slap-the-taste-out-of-your-mouth action.


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