Saoirse Ronan on the run in Joe Wright’s Hanna

Something of a departure for director Joe Wright (Atonement), Hanna is a fun, action-driven thriller about a young girl (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan) living in isolation with her father and raised from birth to be a merciless killing machine. When she decides for herself that she is ready, she is unleashed upon the world to carry out the mysterious mission  for which she’s been trained.

The obvious point of reference here is probably Luc Besson’s The Professional, but it’s really more Kick-Ass by way of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. That’s a little misleading. Hanna lacks the smug smirk of the superhero number and there’s only a whiff of the flights of sci-fi fancy contained in Spielberg’s Little Robot Lost fable, but this is very much a fractured coming-of-age story built upon a lost childhood and infused with fairytale overtones. While Hanna has been programmed to kill, she’s unprepared for the emotional slings and arrows of living.

For her part, Saoirse Ronan delivers another solid performance; convincing as a cold killer and ass-kicker yet also believably emotionally fragile. Eric Bana isn’t given a lot to do as her father. He’s intentionally kept enigmatic throughout the film as mysteries about his true nature underpin the second half drama. On the other hand, Cate Blanchett is both enigmatic and borderline over the top as the Texas-accented intelligence operative who appears to be the target of Hanna’s relentless determination. She appears to be having a great deal of fun as she strives to remain one step ahead of Hanna, all the while tracking her down. Also terrific is Jessica Barden (wonderful as the bored teen troublemaker in Tamara Drewe) as a melodramatic teen on holiday (with hippie parents in tow) who shows Hanna a little bit about what it means to be a young girl in the 21st century. She injects a welcome note of color and humor into a story that is often stark and quietly grim.

Propelled by a nervy Chemical Brothers score and dreamily shot by Alwin Küchler (Morvern Caller, Ratcatcher, Sunshine), Hanna delivers an unexpectedly satisfying action kick from Wright, a man who is better known for period costume dramas. The action is deftly handled, mostly avoiding that irritating overly-edited style meant to fool you into thinking what’s happening on screen is more interesting, exciting and consequential than it really is. Though Hanna frequently favors style over reason, that style is refreshing. At times pleasingly impressionistic, it’s infused with the kinetic energy of well-drawn panels from a comic book.

While Hanna mostly focuses on action thrills, it’s important to note that director Wright has grander intentions. Aiming for the audience’s heart, he wants to move as well as excite. This is a good thing, unfortunately he doesn’t quite pull that part off. Hanna the character is a little too cold to completely earn your sympathy and for the emotional beats that would allow the film to fully resonate. However, even if he doesn’t quite live up to his own ambitions, Wright gets credit for trying and he’s still pulled off an energetic, entertaining and gorgeously shot thriller along the way. That’s a lot more than you usually get from movies that shoot for less.

Hanna. USA 2011. Directed by Joe Wright. Screenplay by David Farr and Seth Lochhead. Cinematography by Alwin Kuchler. Music score composed by The Chemical Brothers. Edited by Paul Tothill. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jessica Barden, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng. 1 hour 51 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. 4 stars (out of 5)

31 Responses to “Hanna (2011)”

  1. I couldn’t have given less of a shit about Wright’s previous movies. This, I might give somewhat more of a shit about, but enough to actually see it in the theater? I’m not sure.

  2. I’m getting sort of a SALT vibe from the reviews of this film — at its heart a standard action film, but one that doesn’t feel the need to use the rapid fire cutting that has worn out its welcome, creating a more “classic” genre style (though classic in this sense really points to the 80’s/90’s period of the genre). I like ATONEMENT myself, so I’m more than willing to give Wright a shot on this. Your review makes it sound worthy of at least that (though like Bob, I can’t imagine seeing this in the theater, but that’s mostly because I’m too cheap)

  3. I liked Wright’s previous stuff too and that helps give Hanna a leg up I think, though it really is a departure for him. It’s an action movie that isn’t so enamored of its razzle dazzle that that’s all there is. Yet the razzle dazzle I found fun.

    I’m weird with action though. I don’t tend to like the prevalent style and this felt a little more classic.

    Salt is not a bad comparison, though I think Hanna is stronger.

  4. I’m excited about this, Craig! I still got a pending interview with writer Lochhead, so maybe someone in LiC has a question for him about the film? ;D

  5. Hmmm… I don’t know. Just don’t ask him what kind of tree he is.

  6. “Salt” was a great pop-corn adventure, and on those terms, “Hanna” might be okay. I just think that Wright’s previous films have absolutely no reason to exist, and even less of a reason for people to actually front money for. Everybody complains about sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots ad infinitum, but not for the umpteenth version of Masterpiece Theater crap like “Pride and Prejudice” or equivalent dreck like “Atonement”? Can we please stop milking the three-hanky British period-piece melodrama teat, already?

  7. But Bob, you have to acknowledge that large numbers of people LIKE the kind of stuff Wright has made. I was ok with Atonement. I liked Pride & Prejudice better.

    But then I also watch Masterpiece Theater.

    Point is, if there’s an audience for it, then it will exist.

    The main difference between something like Salt and Hanna is that Hanna takes itself a little more seriously, for better or for worse depending on how you feel about that kind of thing.

  8. My gripe isn’t that films like P&P exist, but rather that they’re automatically held at a higher pedigree than any other remake, reboot or retread that gets made. The same people who bemoan the lack of creativity in Hollywood for churning out the same old things over and over again very seldom have a problem when the same thing is done with antique literature like this. Just because the characters don’t have superpowers or the stories don’t have big explosions doesn’t mean that all these redundant adaptations of Austen, Bronte and whatnot aren’t still just as derivative as anything else. They’re better disguised, but they’re still tentpole franchises, just for a different demographic.

    Granted, I have my preferred repetitious movie stuff, but I can see them for what they are. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with those who enjoy the kind of stuff that Wright has peddled in the past, but there’s still that nagging double-standard that I can’t abide.

  9. Yeah, the classics have been adapted to death (especially the gothic romances), they are made because they always make some money, and they do get something of a free pass from critics. I think the critics do that because these types of films typically feature real actors actually acting, rather than reacting to green screens and special effects that don’t exist on set.

    But the real difference is that a couple of these come out every year and their cost and box office is miniscule compared to the annual buffet of dozens of remakes/reboots/prequels/sequels and comic book/video game/childrens’ novel adaptations. And while a Pride and Prejudice got batted around a bit for the Oscars, its marketing budget is tiny compared to the endless stream of ads and product tie-ins a Star Wars, Avatar, or Batman type film receives.

    It just gets tiring to deal with, and most of these sequel/prequel/remakes/reboots are derivative and boring to watch. So I can’t really fault the critics for exhibiting a minor double standard here, considering they have to watch everything, whether they want to or not.

  10. I hear you when you say most se/pre/requels are derivative and boring. But again, so are all the classic adaptations. Really, what did the last P&P gain us? Or the last “Jane Eyre”? It’s not like Shakespeare movies, for instance, where the directions can go so wildly different that you can barely even tell they’re based on the same play. Creatively, there’s more variation and interest to be found in whatever the next version of Batman is, frankly, than another spin on the Austen merry-go-wheel.

    Granted, I find any version of these period-piece stories, including the books themselves, boring as hell and borderline culturally useless. For what they were in the day as literary escapist entertainment, I don’t see them as anything higher than, say, the output of Mario Puzo. And we’re probably never going to see anybody even try to top Coppola. So sooner or later, I’d like to see these rusted old “classics” taken out and shot behind the chemical sheds.

  11. Well, as ATONEMENT was my favorite film of it’s release year (I militantly defended it against some detractors) and I like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as well, I’d be very interested in seeing Wright on a different key. Nice work here!

  12. Suffice it to say, I have a bad feeling that this one will please neither Wright fans nor action fans. Reviews so far have been ok, but not outstanding I don’t think.

  13. Call me a sentimental book chick, but as a fan of classic literary adaptations (even if they almost always fall short), I’m a fan of their existence and really enjoyed Wright’s first two films. I had more quibbles with Atonement, but there was some masterful stuff in it, too. Another thing is that the films make the literature more accessible for great numbers of people. I can’t tell you how many people I know who went out to read Pride and Prejudice and Austen’s other works after seeing the film. That’s one valid reason for their existence in this world that’s increasingly out of touch with true literature and the intellect behind it.

    As much as I dig those sorts of films, I’m also glad Wright’s chosen something besides a lush period literary adaptation to direct. Good move, whether it’s as successful as his last films or not. Terrible to get pigeonholed, and I’d think that’d get creatively boring, too.

  14. Jennybee, I’d be supportive of your admiration for how movies like P&P keep people interested in literature (even though I think the kind of literature that Austen represents is obsolete), to me it’s undercut by the frequency with which filmmakers keep returning to that same old, stale fountain, instead of other things. Instead of the umpteenth version of P&P or Jane Eyre, why not, say, doing something that’s adapted a little less often like a work by Joyce? I’m not asking for a full on “Ulysses”, mind you, but a mere “Portrait of the Artist” wouldn’t be unwelcome. And hey, there’s plenty of lesser known stuff that would fit right in with modern trends in movie-making and get people reading– am I the only one who thinks “The Yellow Wallpaper” would make a bang-up horror movie?

    Furthermore, I hate seeing how ignored contemporary literature is by the studios. Oh sure, there’s plenty of modern books that get adapted, but very few of them are on the level of the real masters of the past few decades. We’ve only seen a handful of things by Phillip Roth, for example (and only one of them, “Elegy”, was any good). Cronenberg is thankfully tackling DeLillo, maybe the best American writer of the post-Hemingway era, with “Cosmopolis”. But other than that, we rarely see the big books approached with the same level of cinematic ambition and passion than the same old Masterpiece Theater stuff.

  15. I’ll grant you those points, Bob. I’d love to see some different works and more of the brilliant contemporary works. But considering that this is the same studio system that keeps spending bajillion dollars shoving Garfield, Chipmunks and Fast & Furious movies down our throats, I can’t get angry with them doing another Wuthering Heights or Little Women or Austen adaptation. I’ll take what I can get.

    Also, I’m pretty wary of a lot of the contemporary adaptations that do get made. Blindness is one of my favorites–Saramago is just brilliant–but the film? Not even close. This happens so many times when I get excited about a favorite book. Revolutionary Road came closer than a lot of them, but it still missed. I’m skeptical with what they’re going to do with Jonathan Safran Froer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a book I loved madly in print. I’m cautiously optimistic about what Cronenberg’s going to do with DeLillo (though skeptical about it getting distributed to more than 3 theaters). Taking this back to Wright, I thought his version of McEwan’s Atonement was overall better than I expected of the adaptation. Imperfect and uneven, but still strong. Given Hollywood’s track record, I can live with that.

  16. I’ll admit that most films made out of contemporary classics don’t quite do as well as the books they’re based on, but they come close often enough (I enjoyed the film of “Blindness”, for what it was), and as you said before, attract new readers. In the case of “Blindness”, there’s an obvious disonnance between the story and the medium– a movie about blind people is kinda ironic. Perhaps it could be a great modern opera…

    At any rate, though, the best literary adaptations of recent years, I think, have been of recent books. “American Psycho”, “Fight Club”, hell even “No Country For Old Men”. I’d like to see more of that, and more tackling the real heavyweights of late 20th century American literature. God, why hasn’t a movie been made of “White Noise” yet? Or at least seriously attempted? I know “Libra” was shot out of the water in development by “JFK”, which is too bad. “Underworld” would make a killer HBO miniseries (at least a better one than “Mildred Pierce”)…

    I’m just not beholden to this anglophillic obsession with prim-and-proper society people torturing themselvs in the rigor mortis of love and purple prose. I don’t see the relevance of those stories any more than the Chipmunks or city racers. Garfield, however– if Lorenzo Music were still alive, those movies might’ve had a chance…

  17. I have no problem with the remake of classic stories. They hardly make up that great a percentage of all the cinema churned out across the course of a year. As a case in point, I never get sick of Shakespeare because the work is so brilliant and because of the universality of his themes. The pleasure comes from the endless re-interpretation of his work and how this is imbued by the adapters’ artistic style and preoccupations and the zeitgeist of the times. Though not in the same class, new adaptations of Austen’s work intrigue me for the same reasons. All genres throw up films of various degrees of artistic success but at least those drawing on classic stories have some in-built quality.

  18. Lumping “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” together seems odd. They are historical dramas (though the former was contemporary when first published) but were written some 188 years apart. Atonement is in fact a very contemporary work of literature. Should it not be adapted because it is set in the past and is literary in nature? I too admire Atonement, though it was not wholly successful for me (I put that down to the director’s choices), but both the story and the adaptation were contemporary in style and subject matter.

  19. Bob, you and I are the only two people on the planet I think who liked Elegy.

    It’s a simple fact that Hollywood loves things that are known and proven. Classic lit fits that bill the same way that the dozens of comic book adaptations do. As long as they’re well done, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the source is, and it’s important to remember there’s usually a good reason novels are considered classice. They’re great. As long as they give a new take (as they recently did with the terrific Jane Eyre) then I don’t have a problem with them.

    In a perfect world Hollywood would constantly chart new territory, but that’s not going to happen.

    I’d rather see another classic remade than Thor or Green Lantern or Captain America.

  20. I honestly consider stuff like P&P and Jane Eyre to be the literary equivalent of soap-operas or chick flicks of their day, so I’ll admit right from the bat that I think the stories they’re telling are at very best useless and possibly counterproductive to society. They’re “great” in the same way that a fish in a small pond can be called “big”. If Nicholas Sparks had been writing back then, we’d probably be on our thirtieth version of “The Notebook” by now. They survive primarily because they’re old and recognizable. Today, you wouldn’t see the same material enjoy the same kind of longevity– increased media saturation more or less makes everything equally doomed to the oblivion of short-term cultural memory.

    Considering the talent behind the three comic-book movies you mentioned (Brannagh, Campbell and Johnston), I’ll take that trio any day over yet another version of yet another fondly remembered love story between rich white people a hundred or more years ago.

  21. As if to illustrate my frustration– while I was doing some routine channel surfing, I noticed “Pride and Prejudice” was playing on E!, and hit the info button out of idle curiosity/boredom. To my surprise, it offered the cast and synopsis for the 1940 version starring Laurence Olivier. That didn’t seem right at all, and when I switched over to it, low and behold it was the Keira Knightley edition.

    When the cable company can’t be bothered to tell the difference between which adaptation is being broadcast, it’s time to pack it in.

  22. “possibly counterproductive to society”

    Perhaps you should organize a book and DVD burning of Austen’s work for the betterment of America :-)

  23. Now, now. Burning books only makes people more protective of them. A simple boycott would suffice.

  24. Craig, I like the connection you made to AI for Hanna. She has an alien, superhuman presence that is definitely reminiscent of David. For me, Hanna reminded me more of Point Blank that Kick-ass though, especially during Hanna’s escape from the facility. I liked the effort put into it but at times it felt like Wright was making a film more to show off his ideas as a director than anything else. And Hanna herself isn’t a character I can get into or understand. I found it interesting to watch, but it didn’t really stick with me much.

  25. Wow, Bob. Your blanket disdain female-centric and female-authored classic literature is so ludicrously dismissive, I’ll have to make an equally blanket assumption that you simply despise women.

  26. If the likes of Austen represented the sum total of female-authored classic literature, then yeah. Fortunately there were plenty more inventive women writing back then, like Gillman or Shelley, so the blanket’s not as expansive as you might think.

  27. So what you’re saying is because you don’t personally like the work of Jane Austen (your loss), compared to that of some other female authors of classic literature, it can reasonably be equated with contemporary chick-flick pap?

  28. It’s not the equivalent of chick-click pap because I don’t like it. I don’t like it because it’s the equivalent of chick-flick pap. They’re the same kinds of stories with the same kinds of values– just more of the same sentimental wish-fulfilment aristocratic romance melodramas. They’re no better or worse than any of the same kinds of books that get published and turned into three-hanky love stories nowadays, and only skate by because they’re old enough to warrant being printed in leather-bound volumes with gold-edged pages. It’s distressing to me that we see so many of the same gilded cage boy-meets-girl narratives being recycled over and over again to no chagrin, but endless amounts of eye-rolling for continuing any other film-franchise.

  29. They’re the same kinds of stories with the same kinds of values– just more of the same sentimental wish-fulfilment aristocratic romance melodramas.

    It’s distressing to me that we see so many of the same gilded cage boy-meets-girl narratives being recycled over and over again to no chagrin…

    I don’t know if it’s occurred to you, Bob, but if you change the gender roles here you’ve just described the Padme/Anakin relationship at the heart of the Star Wars prequels.

  30. Well there, it’s reaching farther back to courtly love in its literal meaning as “love that takes place in royal/political court”, back to the days of Camelot, Tristan & Isolde or Paolo and Francessca. But to a certain extent you’re right, both SW and P&P are largely continuations of that same antiquated notion of lovers divided by social castes, norms, codes of conduct rather than the their own personalities getting in the way (which is a more modern thing). A primary difference is that in P&P and the like, that courtly-love is the main draw of the story, so if you’re not a fan of that sort of thing it’s a nightmare. Whereas, in SW (or just about any other sci-fi/fantasy/comic-book film franchise that uses this same “star cross’d lovers” motif), you’ve got plenty of other narrative and sensory hooks to draw your interest (this may explain the logic behind something like “Pride & Prejudice and Zombies”– which reminds me how disappointed I was when I picked up one of the other books in that series, and found out that “Android Karenina” was not about a man falling in love with a steampunk fembot).

    At any rate, I can also accept the “gilded cage” romance of the SW prequels a bit more readily than in most movies out there, if for no other reason than it doesn’t have a happy ending– boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy sells his soul to Nixon to keep from losing girl, boy chokes girl to death (or something like that). There’s times when I can tolerate these kinds of soapy sentimental stories, and the tend to be when the resolution is about as upbeat as a punch in the face. “Tess”, for example, is a rather lovely movie/possible-appologia-from-Polanski-for-being-a-rapist-scumbag. Granted, even when you introduce tragedy to the mix things can still be rather drearily dull (“Atonement” had its moments, but none of them actually involved the lovers themselves).

  31. Joel, I think my brain might’ve been sort of off watching this movie. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

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