“Hanna” is both the accomplished thriller that “Salt” wanted to be and the kick-butt female empowerment action movie that “Sucker Punch” should have been. Like the design of a rollercoaster, scenes continue to build and build only to cap themselves off with a thrilling, satisfying payoff each and every time. Despite some very diminutive shortcomings, the story is entrancing, the actors hit all the right notes and each scene demonstrates how excellent filmmaking is done. It is frenetic, exhilarating and fascinating, and needless to say, I loved every second of it.
Joe Wright excels at directing more elegant and sophisticated films often based on elegant and sophisticated literature, but sounded to me like an odd choice for managing action-based material. To be sure, “Hanna” is very, very different from something like “Atonement” or “Pride & Prejudice.” But every so often, I noticed some similar stylistic methods he used in his prior films, however delicate and insignificant they might have been. Particularly the smaller and quieter sequences demonstrate the director’s skill on a small scale. To my surprise, Wright proves he doubles as a competent action director.
Opening in the cold, snowy wilderness of Finland, Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) is living in a small cabin with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Erik has been training the sixteen-year-old girl for her whole life in Finland and she has developed a skill set that would put five Jason Bournes to shame. Thanks to her father’s “home-school program,” Hanna is an expert at hand-to-hand combat, defense, stealth and hunting. Not to mention she has otherworldly instincts and reflexes. He hopes for her to be ready for the worst even while she is asleep and unconscious.
“Adapt or die,” aside from the film’s promotional tagline, is a phrase often spoken by the two to each other. It basically means that if you cannot prepare yourself for any potential bind you might get caught in, you are screwed. So Erik has taken the liberty to also teach Hanna to speak several languages fluently, memorize entire entries of the encyclopedia and establish fake names and backgrounds for her. Yes, it is a brutal upbringing, but it could be worse; at least she was not forced to take any bullets to the chest a la Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass.”
So why is all of this training and knowledge imperative for her to know? Quite literally, the flick of a switch is what initiates the start of a massive plan conceived by Erik and reserved for when Hanna is able to fight for and defend herself. This switch triggers a signal that catches the attention of a cunning CIA agent named Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett) who hires other helpers and takes countless measures to guarantee that she retrieves the two Hellers. From the start of the mission, Erik and Hanna take two divergent paths and will rarely encounter each other again on their objective.
Beyond this point, I cannot describe what exactly goes down. Like with most ingenious thrillers, the story is filled with all sorts of surprises and twists that are better left a mystery. All I can say is that certain people know certain things, certain people witnessed certain incidents and LOTS and LOTS of chaos ensues getting from point A to point B. What the film does perfectly is gradually unveil new bits of information while keeping the audience guessing what will happen next.
On a technical standpoint, “Hanna” is a masterpiece. Action scenes are sometimes just for show (though still quite entertaining) and others, such as a single-shot fight sequence between Bana and a group of expert combatants, have a special kind of artistic craft to them. Also, the scene in which Hanna becomes exposed to modern technology for the first time is brilliant as well because it illustrates the extreme degree of sensory overload the girl is undergoing. The now commonplace advances, such as the flickering of fluorescent light, the sound of television and the whooshing of the blades on an overhead fan, appear foreign to her and therefore are regarded as a threat. Speaking of which, the film also has a little fun with (as well as evokes a little sympathy for) the fact that Hanna is a girl who is fundamentally deprived of all human contact (except from her father).
The original score was composed by the British electronica duo The Chemical Brothers and it is easily the most entertaining soundtrack I have heard since “TRON: Legacy.” It manages to get the audience pumped and is the perfect accompaniment to the film’s berserk framework, but at the same time does not overwhelm the events happening on the screen. The songs work especially well during prolonged chase scenes, but fit just as nicely as a mood-setter or as the back beat in a club. I can already tell this will go down as one of my favorite soundtracks this year.
Like the Ghostface killer in “Scream 4,” the extent to which Hanna can think so quickly on her feet can seem more than implausible at times. It is as if she knows exactly how and when people will act way ahead of time. If I can think of one reason why people will criticize the film, it is probably because this girl is written much too smart, sly, resourceful and all-around superhuman for her own good.
Either way, I think “Hanna” is one hell of a great thriller. Highly recommended.