16-year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has had a pretty typical upbringing. You know the familiar story- girl with ex-CIA father raised in the middle of the frozen wilderness in Northern Finland, trained daily till she’s proficient in hunting and hand-to-hand combat, knows a dozen languages despite never having heard music or met another person in her life. Typical!
Hanna’s father Erik (Eric Bana) has left behind a violent past in the hopes that he’d be able to shelter his daughter from it as long as possible, but he’s trained her to be an assassin with the knowledge that one day she’s going to find out just who she is.
We meet up with them as Erik is starting to realize that he won’t be able to hold back his daughter much longer. He leaves the choice to move on in her hands, producing a box with a homing device that can be switched on and pinpointed by those that still hunt them. Impulsive Hanna, desperate to see the world and all that it holds, quickly decides to turn it on- destiny be damned.
The device alerts intelligence operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, beautifully evil in this role) to Erik and Hanna’s whereabouts, and a team is quickly sent to Finland to retrieve them. Erik leaves Hanna before they come and pledges to meet up soon in Berlin. He knows Hanna will be taken into custody, but they don’t know that he’s trained her to kill Wiegler and escape.
Long story short, Hanna escapes her captors and goes on a journey across Northern Africa and Europe to find her father… and herself in the process.
While the concept of a father training his daughter to be an assassin is certainly not a new one, the execution here certainly is. Director Joe Wright considers this a fairy tale first and foremost and it does in fact have the feel of one, slow and dreamy and with a hint of the unreal. But every time you get lulled into the characters and story there’s an violent action scene or chase just waiting to kick off.
One of the standout moments of the film is a 4 and a half minute steadycam shot that will undoubtedly remind you of that stunning shot in Wright’s Atonement. This one might be even more impressive! In it we see Erik Bana walk off a bus, through the streets and eventually into a subway station where he gets attacked by some shady types that have been following him. It’s one of those amazingly choreographed shots that makes your jaw drop when you realize how long it’s been going. Making it even more impressive, a talk with producer Leslie Holleran after the screening confirmed that there were no hidden cuts whatsoever- just a whole lot of takes.
It’s a really slick film and the action is top-notch, aided by fight choreographer Jeff Imada (the Bourne Trilogy, Crank) who gives the fights his trademark real-world brawling feel. It’s impressive in that it manages to make little Hanna feel like a dangerous person. On top of that is an amazing, pumping soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers that really intensifies every chase- of which there are tons. (Check this clip for an idea of what to expect.)
There might be too many chases, in fact. Hanna’s escape from her prison is compelling and exciting, and we’re with her every step of the way. But repetition starts to set in as she keeps running and running from those hunting her down. It’s enough to make the audience itself feel tired, no matter how unique the real-world environments she’s traversing are. The production team managed to find some truly stunning real-world locations to shoot in but the amount of variety does give it the feel of a videogame at parts. Hanna runs from level to level fighting when she has to and moving on when she’s done- there’s even a scene set in a shipping yard that sees our heroine jumping over cargo containers in classic gaming fashion.
Still, the film is carried on Saoirse Ronan’s performance here and it’s certainly a memorable one. To be able to simultaneously pull off the look of a cold-blooded murderer with the uneasy emotions of a girl about to reach womanhood can’t have been easy, but she nailed it. One great section of the film sees her hitching a ride with a family of four and become utterly confused by their relationship. She goes out with their daughter and meets a few boys and it’s here that we see that Erik has almost ruined any chances she had for normalcy.
With the exception of some overexplanation near the end (some things are better left to mystery) she’s a fascinating character, and has a much more “real” feel than similar characters in films, like Hit Girl from Kick-Ass.
Blanchett is an interesting foil to the father/daughter duo. Versus their rough and dirty upbringing in the wilds she’s the immaculately clean, perfectly made-up corporate killer, and it’s really no question which of the two is scarier. Her character brings a whole other level of darkness to the film.
Hanna is an enjoyable grim fairytale, a unique action film that doesn’t feel like any other.