By Scott Martin

Hanna, USA / UK / Germany, 2011

Directed by Joe Wright

Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character in Joe Wright's Hanna. The most disappointing thing about Hanna is that the theater wasn’t crowded: less than half full, and everyone there loved it. Opening night, no less. Perhaps everyone went to see David Gordon Green’s Your Highness instead? Even so, the people who opted for Your Highness probably wouldn’t make up the proper crowd for an arthouse thriller directed by the man behind Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). This is purely speculation, as all tastes are different. I’ll certainly be seeing Your Highness at some point, but I’m paid to. So, that point is probably moot, too. Regardless, the fact that the theater had elbow room, room for me to store my bag in another seat, and only a total of probably forty or so people … it’s a bit depressing.

First and foremost, Hanna is most definitely a thriller; the fact that it’s an arthouse thriller is almost unimportant. The story is strong, and the performances are stronger. The strongest thing about the film is a return to form, of sorts, for director Joe Wright; not strictly speaking, as he had previously made a career from soft-spoken literary adaptations, but because his last film, The Soloist (2009), was a critical and financial flop, so it’s nice to see him swing into a new direction and give us back his strong directorial sensibilities. One of his trademarks is long tracking shots with lots of action – recall the Elegy at Dunkirk sequence from Atonement.

Our story is a bit simple, until everything eventually unfolds. A young girl, raised by her father in the woods, is a skilled assassin and longs for the answers to the mystery of her past. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is brilliant and “abnormal” and her father, Erik (Eric Bana), is just as skilled. He’s been teaching her from birth, and keeping her safe from the outside world. Once the pair leave their cabin in the woods, a CIA agent named Marissa (played with steely brilliance by Cate Blanchett) begins a deadly hunt for them. They’ve been classified as dangerous to American security and intelligence, and must be dealt with. What begins as a one-man, one-day job soon turns to bloodshed and secrets.

Last year, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame did the score for The Social Network, and Daft Punk recently created a masterpiece scoring Tron: Legacy. Here, the Chemical Brothers have one-upped them both with their score for Hanna, partly ominous tones meeting with beautiful harmonics and melodies that serve as set-pieces, setting the tone for one of the best musical scores of the past handful of years. And that’s just the tip of the technical iceberg, with breathtaking and nail-biting editing, and beautifully inspired cinematography (I caught a few Suspiria-infused shots, as well as some inspired by Walter Hill’s The Warriors – it’s easy to see that Joe Wright is a lover of film).

Perhaps, though, the most impressive thing about this wildly impressive film is the skill of the actors involved. Eric Bana stands out to me as the strongest, commanding attention even when he’s not on camera. His role is relatively small, but I wanted to watch him more often than not; his work is thorough and beautifully realized. Cate Blanchett plays her CIA agent as aloofly as possible. It’s important to note that that isn’t a bad thing; she needs to be aloof to keep the questions of the film close to the audience. And when her glimmer of humanity breaks through toward the end, it’s a terrifying revelation she brings. Saoirse Ronan, having worked with Wright before, proves that she is definitely no fluke. Her Hanna is an intense creation – a young girl struggling for her life and freedom, all while learning the ways of the wild (and the real world) in one gigantic mash-up. She discovers electricity, human sexuality, and the genuineness of true relationships, all on her own. And I never once thought I was watching an actor.

It’s also worth noting that Tom Hollander, an incredibly funny actor, turns in a chilling performance as a hitman working for Blanchett undercover, and hunting Hanna to the fullest of his abilities. He adds an extra layer of surrealism to this oddly realistic film. Even in scenes taking place in fairy tale settings, everything we’re seeing is deadly serious and gorgeously choreographed.

This won’t be a film that everyone will love, but it’s a film everyone should see. Not for its importance to the world – surely there will be little – but it winds up doing two things at once: it’s escapism in its highest form, and it’s a beautifully told story with loads more depth than the trailer will ever let on. Shame, too – maybe the Your Highness crowd could have come to this instead.

Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com


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