Hanna (2011)

At first glance, the petite 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is an unremarkable child. Yet her mousy appearance and frazzled hair disguise one of the most effective killers on the planet. As the film opens, she stalks a deer, flowing in and out of the trees of the forest until she strikes, firing an arrow just a fraction away from the heart. She chases it down, watches it fall, yanks out the arrow, pulls out a gun and finishes the kill. Title Card: Hanna.

She’s been raised by Erik (Eric Bana), her father, for one purpose: to survive. She can espouse any number of valuable facts, recite a cover-story for her life and speak half a dozen languages and yet it’s not enough. Sequestered away in the wilderness of Finland, she’s never heard a note of music or heard a fairy tale from her father. She thinks she’s ready to meet the rest of the world, to experience the things she’s only read and imagined and yet she knows out there, somewhere, is a woman named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who will do anything to kill her.

Once Hanna makes it to the outside world, she’s caught between the romantic and the savage. One can see the yearning as she hears her first song, the glee and fascinating in every movement of her body. And yet, she must keep those feelings locked, shut off anything that might make her lose her guard or distract her focus. Hanna can only express herself through the gun, the blade and the bow.

One character all but scoffs at Hanna’s lack of the romantic. She tries to explain the idea of belief and god, but assumes Hanna believes in nothing. But every action, every motion, every extension of Hanna is rooted in one belief and one core idea: survival. It’s what her father instilled within her every cold winter night when she dreamed of something beyond the encyclopedia he taught her from.

All this brings into question the idea of the innocence of a child. Granted, she’s on the cusp of womanhood, but Hanna is often portrayed as weak and naïve. And yet beneath it all is one of the most savage, remorseless and effective killers on the planet, quick witted, deadly, silent and agile. The film even goes as far as to call Hanna a bad person and one might even justify calling her the villain of the piece.

Is the film’s cynical tale of Hanna’s quest for survival a damnation of humanity struggle to survive itself? What complicates this is some of the absurd touches throughout the film. One of the most predominate elements is the psychedelic and bizarre music of The Chemical Brothers. Some of the settings also suggest that the film has entered the realm of fantasy and a few characters are clearly exaggerations. These almost suggest that the film is almost in the realm of satire, taking the weakest physical presence and turning it into an action hero to rival John Rambo.

That being said, Saoirse Ronan has proven she’s an acting force to be reckoned with. There are award winning actresses that aren’t half as expressive as Ronan is in one scene in this film. Furthermore, the film demands a vast array of emotions and she pulls them all off effortlessly, taking on a role that demands as much physical fortitude as it takes acting talent.

Cate Blanchett does her best to play an icy, unnerving woman, and she certainly has some chilling moments, but her performances suffers a bit from an inconsistent accent. Eric Bana is solid in a more physical role and it’s a good thing that the film doesn’t demand much acting from him, even though he’s up to the task when the film demands him to actual act.

But the absolute star of this film is the stellar direction by Joe Wright. When his name first came up for this film, many were skeptical, but he allays all fears and proves that he’s one of the finest up and coming directors–perhaps the finest–in the business. He takes what could have been an interesting, but straightforward, action story, and turns it into an astounding flourish of motion and editing.

Hanna is part of a movement of films that have slowly been trickling in which are trying to push blockbusters into more surreal and expressive realms. Other such films include Speed Racer and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, films which are almost complete breaks from the cinematic conventions of Hollywood, jumping from rooting the audience into the objective, detached view of the action and creating a subjective and surreal experience.

Joe Wright uses the camera as a way to express their mental state as the action occurs. When Saoirse Ronan must escape a facility, the constant unease of the camera and nature of the cuts make it a confusing and disorienting visual effect. Likewise, when Eric Bana dispatches a group of guards, the camera spins around as he elegantly and naturally takes down his opponents.

Much like the titular character, Hanna is a film that takes the audience by surprise. It’s a film that isn’t content to be another action flick, pushing the bounds of what mainstream audiences will take in terms of bizarre and atypical film techniques. It’s got the story and set-pieces to back it, but are audiences willing to take a little experimental creativity in their blockbusters? Both Speed Racer and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World bombed at the box-office. Here’s hoping Hanna isn’t the third strike against this creative movement of mass entertainment.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing