Hanna is one of those movies that remind me why I love the craft of filmmaking. Technically it is flawless, but it also an eerie thriller grounded in reality and filled interesting characters, which you as a viewer care about. It proves that action can be an artful genre and it really makes you wonder why anyone ever considered making G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra. At its heart Hanna is a Hollywood action movie, but it is done with such grit and passion for the craft that you might confuse it for some European Art Film.
Hanna opens in a desolate, inhospitable, icy wilderness where a teenage girl is hunting down a deer. As she guts the day’s hunt, a man sneaks up behind her. She defends herself fiercely and it is immediately obvious she is no normal girl. This girl, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) can take a punch without flinching; she can also shoot a bow or a gun with incredible accuracy, speaks around six languages, and has memorized an encyclopedia from cover to cover. However, the only other person she has ever interacted with is her father (Eric Bana), the man she attacked in the opening scene.
Hanna and her father have been living in the Finish Artic for most of her life hiding from something. The movie is smart about not revealing too much at once, it lets it out information in small well-paced doses. It suffices to say that Hanna is a very special girl, and her existence alone is enough of a threat to international security that Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a CIA agent is obsessed in capturing the girl. When the CIA discovers the hiding spot in Finland father and daughter run off in opposite directions hoping to meet in Berlin.
For Hannah the journey is one of survival and discovery. The real challenge for Hanna, is not the CIA predators after her (she is the smarter animal) but learning about the world. Consider the fact that Hanna has never heard music in her life or seen electricity work; she knows about them from the encyclopedia she memorized. But theory and practice are only the same in theory, never in practice. On her journey she meets a family of British tourists, perhaps the first full family Hanna has ever met. She befriends Sophie (Jessica Barden); probably the first girl of her age Hanna has ever met, maybe even seen. Sophie is a materialistic urban girl who is as much out of her element in rural Spain as Hanna, and her parents are as inadequate for raising a child as Hanna’s father is.
Joe Wright has wonderfully crafted the film. Previously he has worked mostly on period dramas (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) but he seems to have as a clear grasp on the action thriller as if he were a veteran of a genre. He employs his locations in a way I have never seen a filmmaker do. Every location, from artic Finland, to urban Berlin to the inside of a candy house in an abandoned theme park, performs to its full potential. It is very perturbing how cinema is capable of turning almost any environment into a threatening antagonist.
Likewise, the actor’s give a performance that bring out, what might have otherwise been bland, characters to full life. The standing ovation goes to Saoirse Ronan who plays an impossible character and still manages to inject full emotion to a cold-blooded killer. Kate Blanchett on the other hand turns a human into a cold, almost machine-like, CIA analyst. What is it about women (and children) that when something is off about them they turn into the most threatening, scary looking beings around? Whatever it is this film knows how to use it.
Finally, I’ll quickly touch upon the soundtrack. It has been advertised as being scored by The Chemical Brothers. I thought this meant it used their songs, but it doesn’t. The score here is an above average but still regular thriller score. What is very, very well used is a tune from one of their songs to signal one of the character’s presence; more or less in the same way the “taa-dum… taa-dum…” notes were used to signal the shark in Jaws.