The most immediately shocking thing about Hanna might be the movies that preceded it in director Joe Wright’s filmography. The young filmmaker’s other three films have been Pride & Predjudice, Atonement and The Soloist – all three have a varnished, classic feel to them; and though Atonement played with some technique, they all felt like they could have been Harvey Weinstein’s horse in the Oscar race any given year. Just look at their plots – one is based on a classic english novel, another is about teaching a man with mental disabilities how to function in the world while examining his troubled past.
On the other hand, Hanna is about a teenage girl who was trained by a secret-agent father to murder.
But the harshness of Hanna doesn’t end with its synopsis. Wright has assembled a film that can simply be described as kick-ass, like a more cinematically vibrant version of Kick-Ass. There are sure to be thousands of high school film geeks that will see this film and think it’s one of the best films ever.
It’s not, but only a real buzzkill could watch Hanna and not have a fun time. It begins in a snowy forest, home to Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana). Like any good dad, Erik is doing everything to prepare his daughter for the real world, despite the family’s total exclusion from society. But Erik’s idea of being prepared has to do with the ability to avoid being killed and to be able to kill. It’s all to help her on a mission that’s never spelled out, but is safe to assume won’t be entirely legal.
This first act is, if you can believe it, the most tame part of the film. Once Hanna starts encountering others, Wright pushes the film to the pedal and starts snappy, furiously-cut action sequences in immaculately framed and colored habitats. And then there’s the punchy score from the Chemical Brothers that could steal all of your attention if the rest of the film didn’t scream for it.
If all of this isn’t big enough, consider Cate Blanchett in a positively silly role. Devoured by a huge American accent, the Australian actress lets it rip as a CIA operative hunting down our hero. It’s not her best work, but it is difficult to look away whenever she comes on screen.
Ronan, opposite Blanchett, grounds the film with a character that could have been played for laughs. And without her acting as a compass, the film could have easily strayed into going (too far) over the top.
But while it does manage to keep from going over the top, it doesn’t have much to do after its first hour – we’ve already seen Wright pull off some highly-choreographed filmmaking, and there’s not much that can top that. The action film becomes more a thriller that, though competent, isn’t as exciting or interesting as Wright’s highly cinematic sequences from earlier.
It doesn’t finish on its high-note, but at its highs to watch Hanna is to watch Wright have fun with the action film. And you’re probably going to have just as much fun.