Hanna

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Year: 2011
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett

★★★★☆

Hanna was marketed as a reasonably conventional thriller. Fortunately, it turned out to be anything but conventional.

The title character is a specially-bred 16-year-old assassin, played by the excellent Saoirse Ronan, who has spent her entire life being trained by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), in a northern European forest. She has no experience of the outside world, knowing only what Erik has taught her, namely some impressive combat skills, verbatim encyclopedic facts, just about every language in existence, and a smattering of the Brothers Grimm. A rather drawn out opening sequence at the forest hideout establishes Hanna’s skills and character, and we learn something about her relationship with Erik. She then decides that she is ready to go out into the world, but not without first assassinating Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the villain of the piece.

The first scene of genuine interest involves Hanna’s escape from a holding facility, which looks like a combination of Area 51 and the headquarters of a Bond villain. The score is by The Chemical Brothers, and you get the impression that the action sequences were written more for the music than the other way around. The escape scene is highly-stylised industrial grandeur, all metal ducts and looming grey blocks. Later, Erik fights a group of government assassins in a garish orange room and there is another excellent scene at a cargo dock. All could conceivably be expensive music videos. Hanna is worth seeing for the score alone.

Hanna combines splendidly over-the-top visuals with The Chemical Brothers’ block rockin’ beats

The holding facility from which she escapes turns out to be in Morocco, and there she is forced to adapt to the real world, whether this involves bonding with a holidaying family or adapting to the horrors of modern technology via a somewhat slapstick panic attack. Around this stage, I was losing patience with the film. Despite some impressive acting and cinematography, it gets rather messy. The tone shifts so frequently that you don’t know where you stand. It moves too casually between being a serious thriller, a kitsch action film and a coming of age tale. Nothing seems to be holding it together.

Surprisingly, it achieves cohesion through a combination of fairy tale elements and surrealism. The more implausible moments, such as Hanna skipping through a campsite with her new best friend, right under the noses of her pursuers, gradually make sense. Her innocence and relationship with the world become more meaningful. Cate Blanchett really comes into her own as her character is transformed from government conspirator to Big Bad Wolf, and Tom Hollander gives a fantastic against-type performance as the perverse assassin Isaacs.

The more absurd Hanna gets, the stronger it gets, and by the time the characters converge on Wilhelm Grimm’s house, an abandoned amusement park, it is very entertaining indeed. As when you enter the houses in the fairy tales, things quickly take a turn for the worse. The conclusion is menacing and very surreal. At one point I thought Marissa had turned into a deer. Why shouldn’t she have?

Hanna would have been a better film if it had kept this kind of tone from the beginning. The first hour or so only works in retrospect. The inconsistency undermines the strong acting, visuals and especially the soundtrack. But once it gets past the silliness of taking itself seriously, it becomes a very watchable fairy tale thriller.

Rob Dickie

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