Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), who was raised in a forest by her father Erik (Eric Bana). As an ex-CIA agent, Erik taught Hanna everything she needed: hunting, armed and unarmed combat, and all the languages in the world. One day, Hanna was sent out of the forest to assassinate Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the woman who murdered her mother.
Joe Wright’s latest feature is modern-day fairy-tale that is part revenge-flick, part coming-of-age drama. Like his last effort, ‘The Soloist’, ‘Hanna’ has some very good ideas that are let down by bad decisions and occasionally over-powering direction.
The film certainly has a very strong beginning. The concept of a killer child may be screwed-up, but this is offset by the curiosity it arouses. Why has Erik raised Hanna in this manner? Who is this woman they want to kill, and why did she become their enemy?
The storytelling is tight, intentionally drip-fed, which keeps the focus on the moment and makes the assassination plan more dramatic. Well, for the first 45 minutes. After that, Hanna sees the wider world for the first time and becomes distracted – which is both good and bad.
On one hand, it allows some insight into the effects of Hanna’s blinkered upbringing. Having grown up killing her own breakfast and making her own fire, she is not prepared for her journey through the modern world. Seeing her flick light switches on and off in awe is one of several touching moments, which add a human side to what could have become another soulless gun movie.
However, Wright doesn’t know when to pull back on the sentimentality. The film hits its low point when Hanna hitches a ride with a stuck-up English hippy family, which is meant to contrast the lonely, limited nature of Hanna’s upbringing. Ironically, this family is even more dysfunctional than Hanna and Erik, and only succeeds in making Hanna’s journey more irrelevant.
Her meticulous plan somehow becomes self-indulgent faux-art, featuring slow-motion Flamenco dancing. The film goes so off-course that it is questionable whether there was a plan in the first place. Is the story intentionally drip-fed, or is there just not very much to tell? For a child raised specifically to kill, Hanna doesn’t end up doing very much.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any action. There are a handful of set pieces, and they are a delight to behold. From a fight in a subway to a chase through a labyrinthine cargo yard, the action is wonderfully shot and expertly edited. Long, tracking shots allow for a high level of clarity and immersion. Even this, however, is sometimes ruined with over-energetic camerawork, turning the film into a music video.
Saoirse Ronan is a good action star, throwing herself into her fight scenes with zeal, but her real strength is her acting. On one hand she seems so genuinely lethal that it’s a little scary. At the same time, she has a delicate, innocent aura that makes it hard not to feel sorry for her. This is a layered performance that transcends the generic labelling of ‘good’ or ‘evil’.
‘Hanna’ is not flawed, but sabotaged. Ronan is superb, and the action is fantastic, but even this is not enough to put the film back on course after Joe Wright steered it in the wrong direction. It started off as a good film, but ended up as a handful of good ideas, poorly strung together.