The first thing to know about Hanna is that its namesake character is a badass. Seriously, that point is made before the title card shows up. She lives in a forest just under the Arctic circle, she hunts and skins all her food and she moves through the wilderness like a friggin’ shadow. She also passes the time with her father as they beat the living crap out of each other.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s only in her early teens?
The premise begins with a young girl, trained in isolation to be a killer as an unknowing part of a revenge scheme over a decade in the making. But after she makes it to the outside world, the movie transforms into a bizarre coming-of-age story, portraying typical moments of adolescence as filtered through Hanna’s killer instinct and isolated upbringing. An obvious example comes when Hanna meets some poor guy on her travels and they have a few… let’s call them “troubles” approaching first base. A more subtle example comes during the standard “lashing out at her parents” phase, in which this particular father and child exchange blows that would cripple lesser men.
Most “fish out of water” stories would play our protagonist’s unfamiliarity with the outside world for laughs. Though that does happen on a few occasions (my personal favorite being when Hanna brings “breakfast”), the movie is usually good enough to take a more fresh approach. After all, Hanna isn’t completely ignorant of her surroundings: She speaks several languages and her father would often read to her from what appears to be an encyclopedia. Still, it’s one thing to hear about electricity and quite another thing to actually see it in action. There’s a scene when Hanna gets access to a room with television, fluorescent lights, a ceiling fan and an electric kettle… and it’s surprisingly scary. You’d have to see it to understand, but the whole thing is shown through her eyes and it’s frightening.
I know Saoirse Ronan (apparently pronounced “seer-sha,” FYI) already earned an Oscar nomination a few years back, but she’s earned herself another one with this role. Not only does she make for a surprisingly convincing assassin, but Hanna also has moments of sincere wonder at the outside world, which Ronan totally sells. At her core, Hanna is essentially a girl who wants something more out of life, despite her father’s best efforts to keep her sequestered and satisfied. It’s a cliche worn out by so many Disney princesses, but Ronan somehow makes it fresh and sympathetic all over again.
Still, Hanna’s relationship with her dad would have totally fallen flat if not for the talents of Eric Bana. He and Ronan play wonderfully off each other, delivering a father-daughter dynamic that’s genuinely heartfelt, yet so ruthless in their training that even Hit Girl and Big Daddy might say “That’s pretty fucked up.”
Cate Blanchett appears as our villain, Marissa Wiegler, though I’m sorry to say that she doesn’t really bring her full potential here. She’s scary and threatening enough, but her Southern accent is laughably inconsistent and totally wrong for the character. Tom Hollander also delivers a solid performance as another key antagonist, yet the character suffers because we never really learn anything about him. Even now, I still have no idea who Isaacs was, how he and Marissa know each other or how he already came to know about someone who doesn’t legally exist.
Then there’s the matter of young Jessica Barden. I couldn’t help staring daggers at the screen when she first came up, as her appearance brought back unpleasant memories of her performance as an annoying, vapid, mendacious, perverted, spoiled little bitch in Tamara Drewe. Indeed, this movie has Barden playing yet another annoying, vapid and perverted teenager, but at least it works here. For one thing, her character — name of Sophie — doesn’t suddenly hijack the film, nor does she engage in any selfish and illegal activities. Secondly, this typical teenaged girl is actually the “best friend” character for our pint-sized assassin raised in the wilderness. They act as sounding boards for one another, taking the edge off each other’s eccentricities to often hilarious effect.
Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng both deserve honorable mentions as Barden’s parents. Like Sophie, they help our heroine acclimate to civilized life, getting quite a few laughs in the process (the discussion of Hanna’s mother comes to mind). Alas, this family of supporting characters led to something of a letdown. The movie gives them so much screen time and puts so much effort into establishing an emotional connection, yet we leave them in a considerably dire situation with no clue of what happened to them afterward. I honestly felt a little cheated by that.
In fact, I personally think that the ending cut the film short. The film ends when Hanna completes her mission — the thing she’s spent her entire life working, waiting and obsessing for — yet we’re left without any clue of what she does after that. To paraphrase another cinematic assassin, I’d be very interested to see if this girl is more relieved or regretful about the fact that at only thirteen, she’s already rid of her worst enemy now and forevermore. Just a glimpse of that would’ve been nice, though I suppose there’s something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more.
Though the plot can get rather predictable at times (I was close to 100 percent on guessing which characters would die and when), the characters are entertaining and well-written enough to keep the narrative engrossing. Visually, the film is quite remarkable in its camera work and editing, though there are times when I thought it was all getting a little too crazy. There’s one scene in particular when Hanna is just running down a hallway, filmed with shots of her right-side up, upside-down and at right angles, all within seconds. There’s also a montage of Hanna doing some online research, and director Joe Wright tries waaaaay too hard to make that scene interesting. I realize that a scene of Hanna at a computer isn’t the most exciting thing to watch, but the attempts to make it more energetic by way of zoom-ins and panning shots were just laughable.
The score was composed by an electronica duo called The Chemical Brothers, of whom I claim no prior knowledge. The music they delivered was serviceable. Sometimes, it was innovative and heart-pounding, wonderfully elevating the scene. Other times, I couldn’t tell if the music was playing or if someone’s cell phone was going off. On a select few occasions (the raid on Hanna’s cabin, for example), the score seemed horribly out of place.
Last but not least, there’s the action. The choreography was amazing — expertly performed and wonderfully shot — but I couldn’t help feeling like the staging was a touch lazy. Take Hanna’s escape from the military base in the first act, for example: As exhilarating as it was to watch Hanna running and gunning her way through so many soldiers, I couldn’t help but look at all the enormous concrete tunnels, weirdly-placed air ducts and lights that just wouldn’t stop flashing, wondering all the while just who the fuck designed this top-secret military installation.
There’s another fight scene that takes place at a shipyard. As spectacular as that fight scene was, getting any sense of geography was impossible because how can anyone tell one wall of shipping containers from another? Eric Bana gets a truly awesome fight scene in which he takes on four guys at once without breaking a sweat (such was Bana’s portrayal of the character that I felt sorry for the challengers even before the fight began), but why wasn’t anyone else down there on that subway platform? Finally, Marissa’s ultimate comeuppance felt impossibly contrived to me. It really did seem to me like she failed for no better reason than because the filmmakers had run out of screen time. That might explain the truncated ending as well, come to think of it.
Hanna is not a perfect film, but none of its flaws are deal-breakers by any long shot. This is still a beautiful and action-packed film that’s loaded with incredible acting talent and remains enjoyable even when the visuals and writing falter. This is definitely worth checking out.