Joe Wright’s filmography is full of things I’ve never cared to see: Atonement, The Soloist, Pride & Prejudice. But all that changed with Hanna, Wright’s first real foray into directing action. For comparison’s sake, it’s similar to The Bourne Identity in the way it balances psychological issues with sporadic bursts of action. The young female action heroine subgenre seems to have risen in popularity in recent years with Kick-Ass and Sucker Punch, but make no mistake: Hanna deals with the genre’s popular themes much more effectively than either of the aforementioned movies.
Saoirse Ronan – an actress I’ve never seen before on screen – is phenomenal in the title role. She’s captivating, capable of switching between starry-eyed wonder and straight-faced badassery with the ease of someone far more experienced. Raised in the forest by her rogue ex-CIA agent father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), Hanna has been trained her entire life to be a solider. Armed with knowledge of the world memorized from an encyclopedia, Hanna spends the first twenty-ish minutes of the film convincing her father she’s “ready.” Erik agrees, and they set a plan in motion that aims to destroy Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), Erik’s old CIA handler.
Bana disappears for long stretches of the film, but he gives a compelling performance when he pops up. He’s a versatile actor: for my money, he was the best part of both Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy and Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Cate Blanchett – an actress I normally despise, despite her near-universal critical acclaim – was also relegated to a smaller role than the trailer indicates, and much to my surprise, I enjoyed her performance. She adopted some sort of Southern or Texas accent (a creative decision I assumed would make her even more difficult to tolerate), but she showed restraint and didn’t overplay it. This may be the first time I’ve truly appreciated her in a film (keeping in mind that as of now, I’ve only seen a handful of her movies).
More than anything, Hanna is Joe Wright’s canvas to explore the strangeness of growing up and punctuate these thoughtful, dreamy moments with bouts of ass kicking. Hanna meets a traveling family led by Olivia Williams (“Dollhouse”) and Jason Flemyng (Deep Rising), and forms the first friendship she’s ever had with their daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden). Sophie couldn’t be farther away from Hanna in a cultural sense, but this provides Wright with some material to ponder that tactile sense of bonding with a friend for the first time that almost everyone can relate to. (Perhaps not quite to the extent that this movie delves into it, but at least on some level.) Wright does a good job at balancing the two aspects, using violence to highlight the power of the relationships formed and giving action film fans something to chew on. There are some phenomenal sequences in this movie: Hanna’s interaction with fake Marissa in the holding room, the cargo container chase scene, and – this film’s pride and joy – the magnificent long take following Eric Bana through the bus station and continuing down into an extended fight in a subway chamber. (That subway fight will certainly be one of my favorite scenes of the year.)
I don’t know anything about The Chemical Brothers, who did the score for this movie, but I do know that their work here was fantastic. The score is pulse-pounding in all the right places and inquisitive when it needs to be, using synths and techno beats to emphasize action and xylophones and bell tones to indicate innocence and curiosity. The score is a work of art unto itself, one that has real staying power and will probably be one of my favorites at year’s end. As of this writing, some of the score is streaming for free online over at MySpace, so check it out over there. It’s not music I’d normally be inclined to listen to, but it compliments the action on screen really well and the whistling melody adds to the overt fairy tale qualities of the film.
In my review of Sucker Punch, I pleaded that we’d see some smarter blockbusters during this summer season. I wouldn’t categorize Hanna as a blockbuster by any means (quite the contrary, in fact – the movie has a very down-to-Earth vibe to it), but this is the kind of intelligence I’m hoping for. Joe Wright knows what’s up: it’s not an impossible task to make a movie with a message that also includes excellent action scenes. Fans of the Bourne series, this one’s for you. Until next time…