Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hanna (2011)

Hanna is a rebellious action thriller with an artist’s soul, and as such constantly strives to defy your expectations. A coming of age story about a trained teenage assassin hell-bent on destroying her mother’s killer, Joe Wright’s film is a high-concept globetrotter with a punk attitude. It’s violent, it’s funny, it’s thrilling and it’s engaging. It’s also underdeveloped and incredibly messy. Like Duncan Jones’ Source Code, it gets high marks for being different. But is being “different” really enough?

As a film, Hanna makes a lot of interesting choices. Start with the casting of the ghostly odd Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) as the title heroine. A talented and untraditionally engaging actress, Ronan brings a tender confidence to the role of a girl living in isolation with her father (Eric Bana) somewhere just south of the north pole. Together they hunt, they read, and they beat the crap out of each other. But now Hanna’s convinced she’s ready for the world (i.e. her mission) and father needs to let her go, which really means signaling for the CIA to come and take her away so that she may infiltrate and destroy the evil Marissa, portrayed by a stoic Cate Blanchett.

Sounds endearing, doesn’t it? Wright manages to find some sensitive moments, in a Sofia Coppola kind of way, whenever his writers (Seth Lochead and David Farr) give him opportunity to. Hanna finds a genuine and touching friendship with Jessica Barden’s Sophie, the quippy teenage girl who takes her in. But Wright’s film is most frequently defined by its eccentricities – it is meant to be seen first, experienced second.

Wright’s approach falls somewhere between artsy film student and ambitious music video. He douses his film in bleeding reds and grungy greys, and electrifies the soundscape with a Chemical Brothers score. His characters are eclectic and odd, and are defined more by their traits than their humanity. Hanna is the wild child, her father the guardian. CIA agent Marissa is the cold witch, a woman who kills carelessly and brushes her teeth till her gums bleed. .. and that’s all we’re ever meant to know about her. Her henchmen are of a euro-trash gypsy breed. Etc. etc. And let’s not even talk about the clown who lives a fairytale home.

Even Sophie’s atomic family (bickering but loving ma and pa, and the clingy baby brother) amount to little more than traveling hippies. Hanna has no time for the ordinary, if such a thing even exists.

Yet despite this, the film strives to be more than an action thriller. It wants to be a movie with something to say, which is why it slows down so substantially in the second act, erasing the momentum it established with its mysterious setup and rousing action sequences in favor of “fish out of water” exploration. It’s an odd choice, particularly since the filmmakers put very little weight behind it.

Hanna exists in a world full of super soldiers and bad guys who kill simply because they are bad. It offers you Eric Bana swimming across an ocean. It offers Cate Blanchett suffering through exposition-heavy flashbacks and endlessly convenient run-ins between people who can’t seem to miss each other, no matter how many countries we trot through. In so many ways, it is standard and, honestly, poorly put together.

And yet it remains… different. It excels on the oddity of its choices, occasionally because they are surprising (there is some pretty nifty camera work here), but more consistently because they are dissimilar to the standard we’ve come to expect. In today’s cinemascape, different equals daring. And to the right audience, daring equals enjoyable.

Combine that with directorial technique and Ronan’s capable performance, and you’ve got something akin to a “must see” film. In some ways, Hanna deserves such praise. But in just as many ways, it does not.

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