Film Review – Hanna
Hanna (2011) is the most peculiar of action films, if you would call it an “action film.” Sure, it’s advertised as an action-thriller, and yes there are a number of fight scenes and chases in it, but for some odd reason, I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a straight action movie, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The director is Joe Wright, who previously made Atonement (2007) and The Soloist (2009). These are two films that don’t really bring to mind the action genre, and with this being his first foray in to it, his lack of experience shows. This is a film that had potential going for it, and the actors involved have respectable track records, but in the end the movie didn’t live up to what it could have been. We walk out of it with more questions than anything else, which can sometimes be a film’s strength given the context, but that’s not the case here.
It starts out well enough. Out in the snowy wild of Finland, a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) learns how to live off of the land from her father, Erik (Eric Bana). She learns how to track and hunt down her own food, and to be resourceful with very little means. However, her father also teaches her other, more unique skill sets. These skills include how to fight, how to use a gun, how to speak nearly every language in Europe, and memorizing a wealth of knowledge—you know, just like any other normal upbringing. Their bedtime stories involve reading out of an Encyclopedia instead of a children’s book, and for a reason she is unaware of, he forces her to memorize an address without writing it down. Obviously, we can conclude that Erik isn’t teaching Hanna these things just for pleasure, but to prepare her for some kind of adventure. Would this include a mysterious device with a switch that can only be flipped on when Hanna is completely ready for a deadly mission that only she can accomplish? Is the sky blue?
After finally settling with the fact that she is ready to fend on her own and to go out and see the world, Hanna flips the switch. We come to find out that the device is a tracking machine, and that once it’s turned on, it notifies the CIA and special agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) of their location. Why does Erik have this device, and why does he have his daughter turn it on when they clearly want to hide from the authorities? That’s a good question. A part of the reason is that Erik was once a top agent himself, and because of details that I won’t reveal here, escaped from the CIA to live on his own and to raise his daughter. They separate, with Erik running off and leaving Hanna to be taken and questioned by Marissa and her men. Very quickly, the authorities learn of how deadly Hanna can be, as she takes down man after man on her way out of the military base. Now fully aware of Hanna capabilities, Marissa follows her on a continent-long chase, hiring a band of mercenaries along the way, in hopes of apprehending Hanna and Erik, and resolving the hidden issues that she has with both of them.
I last saw Saoirse Ronan in The Way Back (2010), in which a group of Siberian prisoners escape and travel through the Himalayas in to India. With that film and now this, Ronan has done a lot of cinematic traveling. The main difference between the two films is that The Way Back remains focused with what its characters want to accomplish, whereas this film tends to meander along aimlessly through its story. There are just one too many odd aspects about the film that left me confused. Take this, for example: soon after Hanna escapes the military base, she ends up in Morocco staying the night in a run down hotel room. For what seems to be way too long to make a point, Hanna becomes overwhelmed with all the technology around her. From the television, to the radio, to even just flipping on a light switch, Hanna begins to have a panic attack with all that is new. If her father were so concerned with Hanna surviving on her own, wouldn’t you think he would have at least taught her what the Internet was? Ok, she can use a knife, but being able to drive a car or use a telephone would be pretty helpful also.
Then there is the British family that Hanna befriends during her trip. This is an odd, unique, free-thinking kind of a family. The mother Rachel (Olivia Williams) is one of those free-spirited people who is “one with nature” and has received her education being out there in the world instead of inside of a classroom. And there’s Sophie (Jessica Barden), the loud mouth, pushy, abrasive daughter whom Hanna closely attaches with. Sophie is one of those annoying kid characters that chews gum with her mouth open and says inappropriate things simply for the shock value. I know what the filmmakers were going for here: Sophie and her family are used to show Hanna the kind of life that she missed out on, one of simplicity, love, and normalcy. One scene includes Sophie and Hanna going out with boys, and another includes them hiding under a blanket and sharing secrets with each other. This would be interesting, if it weren’t for the fact that Hanna is a killing machine currently being hunted down by authorities and mercenaries alike, and I waited impatiently as the film very awkwardly tried to bestow some kind of humanity onto this character.
Cate Blanchett, in my humble opinion, is one of the best actresses working today. She has the ability to completely disappear into a role; in just about any film she stands out as a highlight. Which makes me wonder what compelled her to take part in this movie, which is well below her standard. Marissa is a character with eccentricities but very little reasoning behind them. She brushes her teeth so hard that her gums bleed, but why? She hires thugs to help track down Hanna, apparently because she doesn’t want the CIA to be involved, but then goes and participates in the mission herself? Marissa seems to have a history hinted at with Erik, and sees Hanna almost in a motherly light, but nothing deeper is revealed. We don’t know what her motivation is: does she pursue to help them or to kill them? Is she doing it out of guilt over what she’s done in the past or because she simply wants to finish something she started years ago? Is she even the bad guy in this movie, and what’s up with the accent that comes and goes out of nowhere? If you have an answer to any of these questions, please, let me know.
Hanna is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a quiet, contemplative, introverted film about a girl hidden away from the outside world, or is it an over the top, hyperkinetic visual extravaganza? During long stretches the film moves at a slow pace, with little to no sound effects or music. Then, during certain action sequences, the camera whirls around dizzyingly, with a blaring soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. During the scene where Hanna escapes the military base, it feels as if it were coming from a bad music video (who knew that air ducts were fully equipped with strobe lights ready to flash when necessary?). Either of these approaches is fine, but unfortunately neither of them were used effectively enough to tell the story well or provide answers to the questions that we have. In the end, the film is more quizzical than anything else, and within its intended framework, that’s a big no no.
Final Grade: C