April 8, 2011

HANNA: Children’s Hour

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Worth a Ticket.
HANNA may be the first movie not based on a graphic novel to feel like it is.  Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr (the first film for both) and directed by Joe Wright, it has the feel of a film conceived in visual rather than dramatic terms, more concerned with intensity than depth.  All this catches up with it after a while, but a great deal is redeemed by the superb casting of the main antagonists:  the remarkable young actress Saorise Ronan and the great Cate Blanchett.
The premise is a variation on any number of superhero (and religious) origin stories:  far off in a forest near the Arctic Circle, a father with secrets (Eric Bana) trains his teen daughter Hanna (Ronan) to elude, fight–and kill–anyone who gets in her way.  The time comes when she must leave his sanctuary and join humanity, but she has a mission:  to eliminate the mysterious government agent Marissa (Blanchett) before the woman can do the same to Hanna and her father.   The opening reels of Hanna, in which we follow the girl’s training and see Bana’s plan play out, are often thrilling:  Wright, making his first action movie, feels in complete control of the material, and Ronan’s performance combines youthful innocence with feral violence.  

Things, of course, don’t go as planned, and Hanna goes on the run.  This section is in some ways the most interesting, with an almost 1970s movie feel as Hanna learns about the world as she journeys from Northern Africa into Europe, meeting her first “normal” family (Olivia Williams is the mom) and her first friend (Jessica Barden), simultaneously excited by all she’s seeing and haunted by the facts of her life.  Of course, Marissa is having Hanna followed, and this chapter climaxes with a chase and shootout among storage containers… which is exciting enough, but also the first sign that Hanna may be running out of inspiration, because if there were a World Action Movie Court, surely one of its first injunctions would be to call a moratorium on confrontations around storage containers and in huge empty factories.
The third act of the story brings us to Germany, and here is where the filmmakers need to unwrap some of the mysteries they’ve been keeping to themselves, and satisfactorily resolve the story.  This they don’t manage to do:  the revelations about Hanna’s identity and Marissa’s motive to get rid of her are highly predictible, and none of them deepen the characters in any meaningful way.  Instead of dealing with the story on a human scale, Wright gives in to a lust for imagery:  the seeds sown throughout of Hanna being a sort of fairy tale character (her beloved book back in the Arctic was of Grimm’s stories) are reaped with a vengeance, as things become borderline surreal with on-the-nose imagery and dialogue.  (One character has to announce a destination by actually saying “To grandmother’s house we go.”)  Things become increasingly cartoonish, until Blanchett’s Marissa is no more than a modern spin on her Nazi in the last Indiana Jones movie, and Hanna has become Hit Girl in Kick-Ass with a less robust vocabulary. 
Which is a shame, because Wright had the actresses on hand to do so much more, and he manages the technical demands of the genre quite impressively.  The striking gray-blue photography by Ben Davis (who’s worked often with director Matthew Vaughn, including on Kick-Ass) is notable, and there’s an effective score (their first) by The Chemical Brothers.  Hanna is a good genre movie that could have been Christopher Nolan good, an opportunity to leave audiences happy ever after that just slipped through the filmmakers’ fingers.
(HANNA – Focus/Universal – 110 min. – PG 13- Director:  Joe Wright – Script:  Seth Lochhead, David Farr – Cast:  Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana – Wide Release)


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."