I don’t know about you but when I think about Joe Wright, director of such films as Atonement and The Soloist, I think about intense, ultra-violent action sequences. Of course, so would you if you attended the panel for Hanna at last weekend’s New York Comic Con.

Hanna is quite a change for the director. It’s possibly the most mainstream film he’s ever created, an intriguing mix of violent espionage thriller and modern fantasy. In it, Wright brings back Saoirse Ronan (of Atonement and The Lovely Bones) as Hanna, a girl who’s been made into a killing machine by her loving father Erik (played by Eric Bana). Erik is an ex-CIA agent who relocates her to the wilds of Finland and uses her formative years to create the perfect assassin. It all comes to a head one day when Erik sends Hanna on a mission across Europe, while she’s trying to look out for one Marissa Wiegler (played by Cate Blanchett) who is sending CIA agents after her. Expect lots of guns, blood, and children in dangerous situations.

Joe Wright, Eric Bana, and Saoirse Ronan all showed up for a panel this
weekend and to show off two clips, the first footage anyone has seen of
the film. It’s always fascinating to see a director go out of his element and Wright was quick to mention that the main reason he wanted to do this film was because the thought of doing it scared him. Later on that day I got a chance to talk with him about the film at a press event, and we talked about how the age of the killers in cinema seems to be skewing younger. He agreed, and mentioned that this film was in motion before Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim, so it must be something in the zeitgeist.

Bana found the age of his cinematic daughter to be a challenge as well, because the film called for intense training sequences, forcing him to actually battle the young girl. He held back quite a bit at first, and Wright had to prod him into doing it for real. “Forget that she’s a girl, forget that she’s 16,” Wright told him, “Just smash her into the ice!”

“And that was all the motivation I needed!” quipped Bana. He ended up getting bruised a bit, especially during a stick fight between the two, but claims that she’s a quick learn and actually quite a challenging fighter. The fights were helped greatly by choreography from Jeff Imada (of the Bourne films), who lends his trademark kung fu meets real world brutality style to this film. They shot a lot in Finland in ridiculous temperatures- sometimes reaching negative 35 degrees- but the real-world location added a lot to the feeling of being in a dreamy fantasy film.

As for the footage, it looked phenomenal, the first scene completely stunning the crowd who had no idea what they were in for. In it, Cate Blanchett is talking on the phone with Eric Bana, trying to get the rouge ex-CIA agent to meet with them, presumably because they have his daughter. There’s a knock at the door and a fellow agent goes to see who it is, and is shot through the door Opera-style, flying back across the room. An insane close-up shot of the hole in the door reveals Bana’s eye looking hungrily around the room,  finally sighting Blanchett. She actually comes off as someone who has had lots of experience with guns, taking cover and returning fire and making it all seem natural to her. There’s another intense close-up shot of the hole in the door as we see Bana just kicking through the door and then he enters, gun drawn.

It’s violent, stylish, and intense as hell. Making things even better, Wright was quick to point out that it only contained a temp score, because the film will be scored by The Chemical Brothers. Awesome.

The second scene we were shown should have come first, but it was the showstopper. In it, young Hanna has been captured by the CIA and is being kept in a dark and circular concrete holding cell. At regular intervals along the wall there are cameras, and the sequence is shot from their perspective. Marissa is behind the scenes playing puppetmaster to another woman who is pretending to be her and interrogating Hanna. Things soon go south though as Hanna jumps on the woman as if incredibly emotional, and then breaks her neck in one quick motion. A CIA agent who storms the room with his pistol soon gets it taken from him and a bullet for his troubles, and then Hanna spins around, methodically shooting out every single camera in the room. Marissa sighs with a mixture of horror and admiration, and the crowd let out a huge breath.

You have to love when a director steps out of his comfort zone and tries something unique, because they inevitably come up with such a new take on the material. Focus Features will release Hanna nationwide on  April 8th, 2011. Expect to read much more on it in the upcoming months.