Movie Review: Hanna

Directed by Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander
Release Date: April 8, 2011

Hanna is an unabashed action picture that is immediately striking and bold and extremely outlandish in its material. But let us get introduced to director Joe Wright. He knows how to fill his screen with dazzlingly poetic images that have the tendency to make our hearts melt. Just reference his previous films, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Completely removed from the conditions in which he feels most comfortable, Wright’s departure for action and brutal violence may seem like an awkward position for him after his pleasantly romantic films. But in his newest feature, Hanna, written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, Wright shows a significant increase in ability when he laces the beautiful with shuddering images of viciousness. Instead of trivializing violence with imprecise material and ineffective scenes, the film expresses all of its complexities, mechanisms, and emotions in a rock-n-roll kind of way (thanks to a hypnotic score by The Chemical Brothers) through exotic and bizarre locales.

In a way Wright personifies violence. Of course this kind of attachment to violence is constantly reproached in cinema. Only a few films find it ripe for artistic exhibition (No Country for Old Men and A Clockwork Orange). And instead of these rare movies leaving us with painful memories, they blissfully torment us because behind all the carnage they present to us (and it is a lot of carnage), after looking past it, there remains a lesson to be learned, one that weighs on us like a nightmare.

In the snowy landscape way up north, deer and wolves aren’t the only inhabitants. The film begins in a frigid atmosphere, vast and expansive. Impossible for there to be human existence here. But it turns out there is. Another pair of mammals inhabits this environment, a father and his teenage daughter. The daughter is Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and she is pulling back her bow, ready to kill a deer: The first of many violent scenes. She remains un-disgraced while gutting the deer. Sneaking up behind her with intent to attack her is her father Erik (Eric Bana). This is all typical for their relationship. The father ceaselessly tries to take Hanna by surprise. The two engage in hard-fought battles, all in the name of love. Erik does this for a reason and that reason is to train and prepare his daughter for a bigger challenge that awaits her where civilization thrives. The two of them find shelter from the cold in an isolated cabin in the middle of the forest. Inside is a device that if switched on the CIA or some intelligence unit will detect their location and come after them. This is Hanna’s big test. She switches it on and her father leaves her to fend for herself, almost reminiscent of a father giving his daughter up for marriage.

The switch informs Marissa (a maniacal Cate Blanchett); an intelligence operative with mean intentions. It turns out she has had history with Erik, who happens to be an ex-CIA man. After her agents get Hanna into a detaining room all seems gravy. But they have underestimated Hanna’s unprecedented talents at eliminating people by the dozens. When Hanna kills many people we are reminded of other teenage girls resolving their problems by violence or killing (Natalie Portman in The Professional and Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass).

Marissa realizes what she has to deal with and ventures off to the underbelly of Morocco where she hires Issacs (a twisted Tom Hollander) and his goons to find Hanna. While they search for her Marissa takes the task to settle some history with Erik.

Wright isn’t inclined to pursue satire or comedy with this material. The genres of comedy and satire usually give attention to films that have outlandish tendencies and preposterous plots. Isn’t it difficult to watch attentively a film that observes a teenage girl’s swift movements of violence? Of course it is and at times it is difficult to accept all that the film excessively endows itself with. But the main asset of the film is its ability to vaporize comedy and satire, giving way to a serious meditation on violence and the ailments of raising a child.

The teenage Hanna belongs in the category of “isolated children.” Her early life has been dictated by intense training, leaving her to be unappreciative of the simple things life has to offer. She is alien to relationships, family, and reality, while her instincts and consciousness are akin to that of a killing machine. Wright shows us Hanna in situations that she can’t handle. While fleeing from her enemies she gets sidetracked by the splendors of life. No doubt she can handle dozens of armed men attempting to kill her, but she can’t find the ability to converse with a girl her age, kiss a boy who yearns to kiss her, or participate in family vacations. She experiences all of this with great dejection. Here is a movie about the lost years of innocence and childhood, exchanged for a life that values the ability of sensing an attacker approaching behind you. And this film’s nightmare that weighs on us.

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****

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