Hanna: Not The Professional, But Not Amateurish

Joe Wright, director of such Oscar bait as Atonement and The Soloist, has delivered a brand new film – Hanna. Unlike his previous work, it is a genre piece. It might be more accurate to call it a riff on a genre piece. Wright’s version of a thriller is tinged with science fiction and fairytale fantasy, but is at its heart an update of Luc Besson’s The Professional.

Leon: The Professional…Hanna’s older and uglier step-sister?

Where The Professional continually questioned the audience as to how far its characters could push the boundaries of morality and righteous violence, Hanna instead focuses on love, family, and growing up. Although the main character, Hanna, is raised in the middle of Siberia and taught by her father to “Adapt or die” through a series of difficult and violent tests, she seems strangely familiar. Hanna is still a teenage girl – despite the fact that she’s been trained to be a killer. Saoirse Ronan brilliantly plays the role of the outsider – continually assessing the world through a cool gaze.

She gives the best performance in the film, and luckily her character gets far more screen time than the rather bland father and spy agent played by Eric Bana. Cate Blanchett turns in a mediocre performance as the masochistic antagonist, but does not ruin the film as she did The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Although both of the Australian actors struggle with their American accents, their appearances are fleeting and feature very sparse dialogue, thus minimizing the damage.

In earlier script drafts, Hanna’s codename was Valkyrie, it’s easy to see why.

Surprisingly, Hanna is chock-full of fantastic bit parts where character actors are given a chance to shine. Unlike so many recent Hollywood films, Hanna features unique and interesting characters and very good character development. The film introduces us to a hitman named Isaacs by having him coolly and without emotion describe his current lover thus: “She has both male and female genitalia.” He says nothing more. No mention of this scene is ever made in the film again. Tom Hollander delivers Isaac’s line perfectly, conveying that the hitman is a moral vacuum – and thus must be feared. It seems that most filmmakers have forgotten how to introduce interesting characters – and how to leave certain parts of their background mysteriously vague. Going by their last few films, it appears that even the former masters of this art (read the Coen brothers) have lost their touch with characters.

Hanna meets a very interesting collection of characters (in both senses of the word) during her journey around the world. Jason Flemyng (who may be one of the most underrated actors in the world) shines as the hippy father who openly expresses his love for his family and pampers his children. He serves as a direct foil to Bana’s stern and demanding father. His children are very different from the stock Hollywood children – and as such are actually interesting and realistic. In one particularly surreal scene, a Bombadil-esque character named Wilhelm Grimm performs simple sleight-of-hand tricks in order to amuse Hanna.

While these characters are fascinating, the film leaves much to be desired in the conclusion. After the denouement, I wanted to see more of Isaacs, of the hippy father, and of Wilhelm Grimm. The film didn’t build to a satisfying climax, nor did it fully develop each of its interesting characters. Unfortunately, the final line of the film attempts to be clever and self-referential, but is not quite clever enough. The audience remains hungry for more.

While I’m on the subject of quibbles, I should mention Wright’s directing. Wright quite clearly wants to depict Hanna’s sense of disorientation and confusion, but in his attempt, he goes a bit too far. In one particular escape sequence, Wright uses a strobe light and German Expressionist architecture to throw the audience off balance. It doesn’t work – it is too overpowering and frustrates the audience more than engages them. The same could be said for the Chemical Brother’s original score…although it is quite good, it at times overpowers the rather underwhelming action taking place on screen. Few directors fully understand the power of silence. That said, I am quite addicted to the track titled “Container Park” and have listened to it many times since watching the film. On that note, I’d just like to say that from now on, the use of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King to denote chaos is quite cliché. I’ve now seen it done in three films in the past year – and The Social Network did it best.

Despite these rather minor problems, Hanna is a decent film. At a time when Hollywood has continued to manufacture action films that lack interesting characters, interesting plots, and interesting themes, Hanna is exceptional in that it features all three. It is not perfect – in fact it just misses the heart. And unlike its Valkyrie of a protagonist, it fails to deliver the coup de grace.

3/5 Indians.

 –J.P. Harrington