When Hanna was released, the ad campaign for this movie made it seem a bit too familiar. It resembled a Bourne-style action thriller with the gimmick being that the protagonist was a little girl. Shame on me for falling for it.
On the surface, Hanna may seem like a movie you’ve seen. The main character is some kind of superior soldier and on the run from the government. It’s been done a million times, being the central plot of the Bourne films and even others less worth mentioning like Salt. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Hanna is more of a dark fairy tale than it is a spy thriller, and Joe Wright’s unique direction makes it into something both visually engaging and memorable.
The story follows a 16-year-old girl named Hanna (because it’s the title, so of course it’s her name), who lives with her father in the middle of a frozen nowhere. From him she learns many skills that seem unnecessary for a child to learn. She can hunt, fight, kill, and speak many different languages. Her nightly bedtime stories are passages from an encyclopedia. Eventually she yearns for more in life and her father tells her that to experience it would require that they activate a signal. She does. Enter the big bad wolf. The rest of the plot is about the two of them on the run from a mysterious government agency led by Marissa Wiegler, who will stop at nothing to see both Hanna and her father dead.
This could have easily been a run-of-the-mill action movie, keeping most of the plot elements familiar while making one major thing different. Apparently, director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) had no interest in making that movie and went in an altogether different direction. He films Hanna in a visceral, almost erratic style that calls a significant amount of attention to itself without seeming self-indulgent. His style is quickly developing into one to watch out for. He includes many of the shots that have become almost a staple of his films, including the lengthy and complicated tracking shot. Accompanied by a unique score from The Chemical Brothers, there are moments in this that resemble the fast paced techno-beat running sequences of Run Lola Run, and others that play up the fantasy and twisted visual splendor of one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (something that is referenced repeatedly throughout the film).
Saoirse Ronan (of Atonement fame) gives an incredible physical performance as Hanna, who communicates a lot through her expressions and abilities as opposed to simple dialogue. Hanna knows nothing of the world outside her cabin in the woods, and is forced to deal with killers and the modern world. Her only interaction has been with her father, so she reacts strangely to other people. Many scenes are just of her interacting with or watching other “normal” humans. Even though she wishes to be one of them, there is something about her that prevents a true sense of belonging. It makes her a compelling and somewhat tragic heroine.
The rest of the cast is equally entertaining, with Eric Bana as Erik Heller, her Father, and Tom Hollander as a scene stealing whistling henchmen of Wiegler, the central antagonist as played by Cate Blanchett. Her character is one that is particularly fascinating and difficult to comprehend. Her fascination and obsession with Hanna and her father places her as a strange skewed version of the wicked stepmother. She wants them both in a way that baffles her superiors and even the audience. Whatever she feels for them, it’s personal, and the why of it is left fairly open to debate.
Hanna is a rare surprise in this particular genre of film. The acting is great, the characters are interesting and unique, but most importantly, the style of the movie is utterly captivating and mesmerizing. That’s not usually the case in your standard action flick, but this can hardly be counted among those. Its part spy thriller, part Grimm’s fairy tale, and best of all it’s a great movie.