By Daniel Schindel
Sometimes all it takes to enliven tired conventions is a fresh perspective. Joe Wright, director of such artsy, thoughtful films as the 2004 version of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” has used his sophisticated sensibilities to make his own stamp on the action genre with “Hanna.” There are not too many radical or new ideas in the film, but Wright’s assured direction and some great performances elevate it to something special.
Saoirse Ronan plays the title character; a sixteen-year-old girl raised her whole life in the wilds of Finland by her ex-secret agent father Erik, played by Eric Bana. From infancy, Hanna has been trained to be an efficient, remorseless killer, all in preparation for the day that Erik’s corrupt former colleague Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) tracks them down. That time has now come, and Hanna embarks on a journey across Europe, dodging government agents and contract killers to assassinate Wiegler and rendezvous with Dad.
The marketing for this movie makes it out to be a Bourne flick starring Hit-Girl, but that’s far from the case with this exciting thriller. Wright eschews the shaky-cam technique, instead applying his eye for steady, beautiful cinematography; the same factor that made his previous works such a treat to watch. But he’s also learned how to infuse his shots with energy and keep the blood pumping during fight and chase scenes, aided by a terrific score from The Chemical Brothers. The music is a booming industrial-electronica mix that, along with an aggressive sound mix, adds harsh aural punctuation to the actions onscreen.
Craft isn’t all that makes this different than a Bourne installment, though. “Hanna” has a good deal on its mind. Ronan is great as always; here she channels her pale, slightly impish look into a character that is essentially a feral child that can think. Hanna has been raised away from the modern world, being told by her father of things like electric appliances and television but never having experienced them herself until now. She’s lived in Plato’s cave while being told what goes on outside but is still unprepared for what she sees after getting out. The story is really a coming-of-age tale, filtered through fairy tale imagery that is occasionally heavy-handed but overall very effective.
“Hanna” will not quite blow the viewers’ minds, but it is a terrifically made piece that is exciting, humorous and tragic at all the right turns. It is one of the first quality films of the year.