Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 4/8/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 7, 2011

In a cottage deep in the woods and isolated from the rest of humanity, the man has taught the girl to mistrust the world, fend for herself, accumulate a wealth of knowledge, and be the perfect killing machine. Her name is Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), and her story begins on the borderline of finishing her schooling, in complete silence—just the snow and the growing sounds of footsteps—hunting an elk for food and clothing with a bow and arrow, just missing the beast's heart before putting it out of its misery.

She can recite the encyclopedia entries of almost any topic; she knows what music is, for example, but has never actually heard any. When she reads off the phony backstory she and her father have devised for the day she must eventually leave the nest for the cruel world, Hanna inserts such details as the population of her fictional hometown in addition to a list of the names of her best friends. Like her concept of music, it is convincing in the description but clearly lacking in experience. It is little more than a memorized passage, declared with neither pauses nor emotion.

Hanna is, by design (both nature and nurture come into play here—the effect of father's teachings is obvious and later DNA test results hint at something of which he could have no part), a cold being. She is also, then, a purely static character, one who spends the entirety of the movie from the end of the prologue, ironically, in action—pursued by forces she barely understands. All she knows is what her father taught her: There are people out there who will do anything to kill her because of what she is.

It makes sense in that case that Seth Lochhead and David Farr's screenplay repeatedly alludes to a generic fairy-tale motif. The climax takes place on the grounds of a rundown play-land inspired by the stories of the Brothers Grimm (where the truth of her origin is revealed), and her primary hunter is a CIA agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett), who serves as both the wicked stepmother (There's little doubt that had things gone her way, Hanna would be working alongside her in covert operations) and the big, bad wolf (She appears, at one key moment, out of the maw of her archetypical inspiration). Her father Erik (Eric Bana) is the mentor and one-time savior.

He is also, of course, a villainous (or at least exploitative) presence, if we take Hanna's longing for normalcy to its emotional end, and so the constant callbacks to folklore serve their purpose. They justify the movie's simplistic view of Hanna's dilemma by serving as metaphorical cover. That doesn't, though, make for a strong subject. After all, for all the skill she has at taking down those who are chasing her, she is ultimately reduced by this approach to just a little girl who becomes lost in the figurative forest after leaving the literal one.

In her quest for freedom, Hanna travels a lot. From Morocco to Germany, she eventually stows away aboard the RV of a family who's heavily into New Age parenting, though the mother (Olivia Williams) has less of a problem with Hanna's story of independent travelling than the father (Jason Flemyng). Their children (Jessica Barden and Aldo Maland) are fascinated with this mysterious nymph, and through observation, Hanna starts to understand a semi-regular concept of family. On the other end of the spectrum, Hanna is overwhelmed by her first encounter with a television, hammered by image after image of war as the rest of the electronic devices around her elevate the cacophony of chaos.

The plot is merely an excuse for action sequences, which director Joe Wright handles with a free-flowing sense of kineticism. This is particularly true in a pair of long-take shots. One follows Erik from a bus station to the subway as he realizes he's being followed by Marissa's men and proceeds to beat them to a pulp with dexterity, and the other takes the point of view of a different set of thugs (led by Tom Hollander's Isaacs, a gentleman's club owner, whom we first see staging a dance based on Snow White and who whistles a happy tune while preparing for malevolent deeds) as Hanna evades—leaping from crate to crate—and fights them in a freight yard. Just as effective is a shootout in which the participants cannot see each other yet blow holes through the walls and door of a hotel room just the same.

Where the story of this almost otherworldly sprite who's adept at snapping necks is lacking is in turning her into more than that. Hanna ends just at the turn for its eponymous character, before she can actually become more than the tool of others, both onscreen and off.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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