“Hanna” Mostly Hits Her Target

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Neck snapping, stabbing with pens and slashing with knives, oh my! You normally wouldn’t expect such violent content to be in a film directed by Joe Wright, whose credits include adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement.” Lo and behold, he’s done a complete 180 with his latest feature “Hanna,” a commendable action-thriller which, despite a rather lacking story, electrifies the senses.

In a remote Finland forest, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage girl, has spent most of her life learning to hunt, fight and speak in various languages with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative. The training is harsh and rigorous, and one day Hanna declares that she is ready to begin the mission that she has been preparing for all these years.

As part of the mission, Hanna transmits a signal of their location to Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a cold-blooded CIA official, and father and daughter shortly split, intending to rendezvous at a later date. Marissa subsequently sends a team to capture Hanna, who willingly gives herself up and is taken to a safe house in Morocco. There, she escapes after killing a body- double of Marissa (without realizing this).

Soon, the young assassin becomes the prey in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Marissa, who is simultaneously stalking Erik. As Hanna evades and clashes with her enemies across several countries, she begins to discover the meaning behind her very existence and the very world that exceeds her vast knowledge and imagination.

Many viewers may choose to look at “Hanna” based only on its action-thriller genre and will thus fail to catch how at times, it is also a character study of its titular heroine — it examines how she functions and how her personality adapts to the world she never imagined would be so complex.

Hanna has spent the majority of her life away from any human contact save for Erik. She speaks several languages fluently, has memorized every word in an encyclopedia and finally, has created histories for herself whenever she is in another country. However, all this knowledge and preparation turns out to be almost useless when it comes to human interaction. As a result, it is fascinating to watch her react to the things she has only read and heard of, and also opens up when she encounters people.

The film divides its storyline by following parallel journeys of Hanna and Erik as they head to their meeting point. The former is by far the more compelling character because we don’t know much information about her, so we are naturally inclined to want more of her adventure. In contrast, the latter is hardly developed in the film at all, and his trek is slightly dull, as it essentially consists of him kicking ass almost every time. Indeed, it would have been a better idea to center the plot around Hanna’s excursion alone.

Hanna encounters many charismatic and eccentric characters along the way, yet the film apparently doesn’t find it necessary to explore them. It is a shame, especially when it comes to people like Issacs (Tom Hollander), a colorful wetwork specialist whom Marissa recruits to track Hanna. Honestly, wouldn’t you want to learn a bit more about an assassin who nonchalantly strolls while wearing short shorts?

One problem that some viewers may have with “Hanna” is that it doesn’t really provide a genuine sense of closure to its story. While the film does give an immediate end to the main conflict presented in the story, it does so in a way that will leave many of us hanging.

Honestly, is there anything Saoirse Ronan can’t do? With “Hanna,” the 16-year-old truly showcases her acting talent, as the character of Hanna is a major departure from what Ronan has played so far. Her cold, steely composure and her naivety are very authentic, and it’s not a stretch to say that this is her best performance to date.

Since the film mostly concentrates on Hanna, the other characters aren’t as well-developed, and the actors in question are forced to utilize their acting abilities to stand out. With that being said, Blanchett and Hollander succeed by giving their characters unique personalities, while Bana is not as lucky, as his performance is rather flat.

Cinematographer Alvin A. Kulcher shoots the film such that it reflects Hanna’s mind and personality. When she is forced to fight for her life, the camera moves quickly and the image is direct and cool-colored. For scenes when she is affable and docile, camera movement is steady, and the image becomes warm-colored and adopts a dreamy look.

The editing and The Chemical Brothers’ score complement each other very well and help determine to the film’s tone and pace. Cuts are employed quickly during action sequences, and thus reflect Hanna’s and our rapid heart rate. The Chemical Brothers’ work is very unique and is surprisingly effective when building up tension before reaching a shrilling climax.

While “Hanna” isn’t Wright’s best film to date, it is definitely his most stylized, and you can certainly sense that he had fun directing the film. Sure, the story falls a bit short, but there’s no doubt that you’ll have an enjoyable time watching the film.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars