Hanna (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Joe Wright
viewed: 10/09/2011

I’d never seen any of director Joe Wright’s previous films, Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), or The Soloist (2009).  They sounded like lush literary adaptations or other Oscar fodder that never piqued my interest, and while they got good enough reviews, they weren’t about visionary film-making.  While from the trailers, Hanna looked quite different, not just in subject matter but style, I did kind of take into account that this was not a film by Luc Besson or Tom Twyker but by an somewhat undistinguished, though successful director seeming looking for something a little more radical.

The film opens in the isolated outreaches of the Arctic or sub-Arctic, in which a striking young girl with limpid blue eyes, hunts and kills a large deer or elk with a bow and arrow.  She hits it and then chases it until it collapses, and when she catches up with it, she tells it, “I just missed your heart,” and seemingly apologizes with a Luger-shot in the head.  Clearly not your average teenager.

She lives with her father (Eric Bana), who has trained her for a life of killing in this isolated place, elucidating facts of the world, fairy tales, and 1,000 ways to slay a foe with whatever is handy.  Their relationship is not so unlike that of Hit Girl and Big Daddy of last year’s Kick-Ass (2010), though with quite a bit of the humor and irony removed.  Still, these two girls could well get along.

Questions abound throughout the opening of the film, not unlike The Bourne Identity (2002) in a sense.  We’re not given all of the story elements to work with and that gives the narrative a good edge, not really having a sense of which way it will veer or what the real history between these two and CIA operative Cate Blanchett (who I usually really like except when she’s using this really bad Southern accent).  Blanchett is the baddie and that’s not too hard to figure out.  But their globe-trotting, winding paths that lead them to meet up in an abandoned amusement park (a terrific setting, Spreepark), will ultimately end up with some dead bodies.

The girl is the luminous Saoirse Ronan, who came to the fore in Wright’s Atonement.  She is so blond, so pale, so blue-eyed, that she appears onscreen like some apparition, like a fairy from another world, which well fits her character, this lovely young girl who only at some teenage year enters the real world.  She’s a compelling screen presence and a good character.

Wright pumps the film with music by the Chemical Brothers, giving a pulsing, uber-beat that keeps the energy moving throughout.  Maybe that is what brought by to mind of Tom Twyker and Run Lola Run (1998).  The film’s style is more “European” or “avant-garde”, both terms which I use with parentheses because that is how it feels, not such a clear description.  This is clearly not another Jane Austen film.  It’s about, as I heard someone say, “a girl who kicks ass”.

Despite a couple of more conventional moments of lighter humor, meant perhaps to brighten or deepen the spectrum of emotion in the film, it’s a pretty constant up and running thriller.  And you can see that it yearns to be the likes of someone different.  It’s easy to imagine Luc Besson sitting there, going “Wow, great movie!”  It’s been a long time since Besson made a film as good as this.  But he’d love the story and the character and the action.

Actually, I liked it quite well, perhaps a little despite myself and my preconceptions about Joe Wright.  Ronan is so striking, and the character is quite compelling, no matter how derivative the whole of the story might be from some perspectives.  She definitely kicks ass.  And the film pretty much kicks ass.  And no, I’m not calling for Hanna Meets Hit Girl.  But they should do lunch.

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