Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HANNA (2011)

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenager living in a remote cabin in the secluded Finnish forest with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana). She spends most of her days doing ordinary kid things like training to become an assassin by hunting deer with bows and arrows, gutting said deer with her bare hands, engaging in hand to hand combat with her father, target practice with pistols, memorizing fake life stories, and learning about a dozen languages. Hanna has spent nearly her entire life living there, away from the real world and any sort of technology. The only real piece of technology she comes into contact is a radio transmitter which her father presents to her, explaining that once it is turned on, a CIA agent by the name of Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett) will learn of their location and come to find and kill her. He warns her to only flick it on when she feels ready to face the challenge.


Hanna finally decides she is ready, and flicks on the transmitter. Erik reluctantly agrees, suits up and leaves for Germany, knowing that Weigler will soon send a commando team to seize them. Hanna is captured later that night, and interrogated at a special facility in Morocco, where Hanna kills one of Weigler's body doubles and escapes. We learn that Erik Heller is a rogue CIA agent, and that that Erik has been training his daughter for all these years to murder Weigler. She hires a team of assassins to track her down and kill Hanna, who is now hitching a ride across Europe with the family of a girl she befriended. As the assassins bear down on her, Hanna will discover some unsettling truths about her family, her father and Weigler, as she finds out more about who she really is.

One of Hanna's main strengths is the quality of the main cast. Saoirse Ronan is just fantastic as the deadly yet naive girl who is slowly discovering the world she's been sheltered from for all those years. Imagine Natalie Portman's Mathilda in The Professional, but with an unhinged, savage edge. Hanna wasn't taught to be an assassin, she was born one. It's not an easy sell to make her character convincing, but she does a great job of it, and outshines every one else in the movie, even Cate Blanchett who I thought was surprisingly good in her unusual villainous role. The much advertised score by The Chemical Brothers is just fantastic as well, making scenes like Hanna's prison escape (an awesome scene, by the way) explode with urgency and tension.


Hanna is at its best when sticking to pure, unadulterated action. For all of its faults in other areas, Hanna shines with its crisp fight choreography, which shows an obvious attention to detail in several of the action scenes. By far my favorite scene in the movie is one in which Eric Bana's character is followed by several CIA operatives into an empty underground lot, where he is cornered. He instinctively and quite brutally disarms all of his opponents with lightning quick hits and coolly dispatches them before walking away. The entire scene is shot in one continuous take that runs for several minutes, and with the intense score pumping away, it's easily the most thrilling set piece in the film. Another stand out is a nighttime chase and fight scene in some Spanish docks, as Hanna leaps from one container to another while she pummels and stabs baddies left and right with cruel efficiency.
It's disappointing then, that Joe Wright distracts himself so much with trying to make a visually distinctive movie that he forgets that the core ingredient of an action movie is action and story. Hanna has too little of both. We get only tidbits of background story about the characters. By knowing so little about them, it's hard to relate and care for anyone. What precious little action there is is at times ruined by the use of that damned shaky camera work that directors are so fond of these days. If you've got a gorgeously photographed and well-executed fight scene, why spoil the fun by making it nearly impossible to see what's going on? Not every movie has to be Cloverfield or Battle: Los Angeles. Wright has a talent for making beautiful films, and Hanna has some amazing views, but the dizzying camera movement during action scenes is distracting and detracts from the experience. At least it's got a bitching soundtrack.

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