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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Deadly Little ‘Hanna’ Delivers Style and Thrills

Hanna = 4 out of 5
Hanna:  I just missed your heart.
There is a lengthy, one-take sequence in the middle of Hanna that is a showcase for clever camera work, a solid central performance, intrigue, and a climactic action sequence that delivers on stylish, visceral impact.  All of the descriptors for this scene can be used to describe Hanna as a whole, with another huge shout out going to the fantastic and nontraditional score composed by The Chemical Brothers.  Hanna is a slickly made dramatic chase thriller, featuring some fine performances, well-handled action sequences and direction, and a story that tells only as much as it needs to, as it goes on.

Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, Hanna.  As the film begins, Hanna is seen in the middle of an icy forest in Finland.  She stalks and kills a deer, only to be attacked by a man, from behind.  This man turns out to be Erik (Eric Bana), Hanna’s father, who has trained Hanna to be in charge of all her strength, stamina, and smarts.  When it comes to combat, Hanna is a fierce warrior.  Her skills also extend to being fluent in many languages and having all of the knowledge that is contained within an encyclopedia that has been read to her (presumably) many times over.  At this point, Hanna is 16 and she is ready to use all of her training for its intended purpose.


Following this introduction to Hanna’s isolated upbringing, Erik retrieves a locater device and splits, leaving it up to Hanna to deal with the woman she has been training all her life to go up against.  This woman is Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), a ruthless intelligence operative who becomes incredibly concerned upon learning that Erik and Hanna are alive.  Following a brief initial capture by Weigler’s operatives, Hanna soon proves that she is a force to be reckoned with.  The rest of the film mainly follows Hanna, as she stealthily journeys across Europe, with the intentions of following her father’s orders.  While all this is occurring, the shielded truth surrounding Hanna begins to unfold.

Erik:  I tried to prepare you.
Hanna:  You didn’t prepare me for this.
Two things strike me about this film.  One is how strong the three lead actors are.  Given the minimal amount of information and choice to not dwell too long in scenes revolving around exposition, I was really taken by how compelling Ronan, Bana, and Blanchett were in their roles.  The film tells its story on the go, especially when dealing with Hanna, who is discovering a whole new world after leaving her icy forest home.  The way her curiosity functions to have her adjust to all of these new environments is quite interesting to watch.  Bana has possibly the most mystery surrounding his character, as we constantly see him moving with specific intentions, yet with no indication as to what his overall goal is.  The fact that his humanity still manages to come out in how we see him affected by Hanna is only apparent due to how effective Bana is in the role.  Blanchett has the task of playing a cold, shell of a person.  She is very focused on her task, but she too has a human side bleeding into her work, which also becomes apparent when she is forced to reconcile with some abstract thoughts on the past, as they are brought up to her.

The other thing that struck me about this film was how reality-based it seemed to be.  I am not suggesting that everything in this film is possible or that every character action is logical, but I do enjoy the idea that the film is suggesting this in how it is made.  It is similar to the Bourne series in this way, which also has larger than life characters based in a real world.  Hanna brings a realistic Europe into a story that is not above sharing its motifs with fairy tales.  Constant allusions are made to the Brothers Grim throughout this film, which only adds to the way this film is stylish, yet bound to real world logic.


As far as the action and chase beats go, director Joe Wright, who previously directed Atonement (a period film bettered by having as sense of flashiness that didn’t call attention to itself), finds his footing quite well here.  He establishes a mood that allows the film to breathe for an appropriate period of time, before delving into gritty, kinetic, and well choreographed sequences that are only bettered by the thumping score in the background.  I would say this is an action film as much as something like Leon:  The Professional, which is much more character focused, while providing for some stunning action moments.  Still, when the thrills and fights do occur, this movie dishes out some well handled set pieces.

 
Getting back to Ronan and the story, I really did enjoy how this film revealed itself slowly.  At the outset, the viewer has the bare minimum needed to understand what is going on.  As the film goes on, you discover more and more, and even find that what the film does have to say is quite interesting, but also makes you more intrigued by these characters.  Hanna too discovers more and more as the film moves along.  During a portion in the film, she stows away with an English family (with Olivia Williams and Jason Flemying as the parents).  Hanna befriends the daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden), mainly due to how alien she seems to her.  Hanna has emerged from a world without irony or anything that doesn’t involve a new step in training.  Speaking with and going along with Sophie is a completely new experience for Hanna, and Ronan plays this aspect of the character with aplomb.  This performance is of course a central component to the film and Ronan nails it.


Finally, to mention the soundtrack again; as I have been typing this out, I have listened to the score a couple times over.  It is such a distinctive set of beats that this film is tied to.  Wright had a way of tying the music in Atonement into the actual film, which is tough to describe, beyond saying actions match the rhythm.  He does the same here, and The Chemical Brothers have managed to create a series of tracks that infuse their electronica sensibilities into a film that is quiet when it needs to be, only to burst out in more ways than one, once the action kicks into gear.  With Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy and now this, I can only hope that more mainstream artists embrace a collaboration process that is similar.


I was enamored with what this film brought forth.  Initially intrigued by few elements alone (yes, mainly the soundtrack), I was very happy to get such an offbeat, dark, yet kick ass experience.  Make no mistake, this film certainly heads down a dark road when it comes to the people brought into this whole “Hanna situation,” but it also manages to celebrate other aspects, such as female empowerment (much more so than Sucker Punch, the women of which Hanna could break in a heartbeat).  The work of talented performers along with some slick and solid direction only further serve to make the experience all the more rewarding.  Hanna may not have the most exciting narrative, but it manages to give enough deadly force to its story, while providing some pretty cool action beats within this grim tale.
Hanna:  Come and find me.

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