After massive success with his adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, Joe Wright dropped the ball with the awful, maudlin The Soloist. Hanna looked to be something of a departure for the Pride and Prejudice filmmaker, an action thriller in which the hero is a 16 year old girl.
Hanna (Saorise Ronan) has been raised in the wilds of Finland by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) with no other contact with the outside world. She has been trained all her life for one purpose: kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a corrupt CIA officer who was Erik’s handler. But when Erik lets Hanna out into the world, things aren’t so simple. Can she evade capture long enough to reunite with her father, and will she find out the truth?
So, has Wright found his form? Well, some of it. It’s definitely more entertaining than The Soloist, but there seems to be something of a conflict of interest here. At its surface, Hanna is an action thriller in the Luc Besson mould, with Ronan’s pint size killer recalling a more naive Natalie Portman in Léon or a less foul-mouthed Chloe Moretz in Kick Ass. There’s a sub-Bourne conspiracy going on with Blanchett’s spook and Bana’s mournful killer. But it’s clear that what Wright is really interested in is the fairy tale.
He’s not interested in using it as a subtext either. At the start of the film, we see Hanna reading a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales. Once Hanna escapes the CIA’s clutches, Marissa heads to Berlin where she recruits Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a sadistic killer who runs a sex club. Blanchett and Hollander seem to have received the same instructions: “When you think you’ve gone over the top, go further”. So Hollander (In the Loop) struts around in a tightly fitting tennis uniform whistling one of the film’s themes, threatening children with his German accent, while Blanchett goes for a mix of Little Red Riding Hood’s Big Bad Wolf (we’re repeatedly shown her brushing her teeth) and the Queen from Snow White, all while enjoying a Southern drawl. By the time Hanna takes refuge at Wilhelm Grimm’s cottage while Marissa stalks around, it’s difficult to take it seriously.
It falls to an underused Bana and Ronan to keep us engaged. Ronan is superb, playing the mixture of cold-hearted killing machine and inquisitive teen perfectly. When Hanna meets up with a hippy British family (parents played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng, both convincing as irritatingly smug hands-off parents), she is hit with a barrage of questions and pop culture information from the teenage daughter. When the parents ask what her mother died of, Hanna blithely states “Three bullets”. It’s an excellently judged performance that shows how talented she is, but it does seem at odds with the outrageous turns from the villains.
Wright does handle the action scenes very well, especially a continuous tracking shot of Bana beating up goons in a tube station, but there is the sense that he’s not really that interested in the punch-ups. He’s interested in the retelling of classic fairy tales, which is all too clear by the increasingly loopy finale that throws a predictable twist into the mix before a relatively satisfying conclusion. However, the continually shifting tone means that although Hanna is enjoyable, it’s irritatingly inconsistent.
A bit of a mess, but a lot of fun. Ronan is superb, and Blanchett and Hollander’s outrageous villains are worth your time.