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Blu-ray Review: Hanna (2011)

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Some movies are easy to classify (slasher flick, buddy cop comedy, spy thriller, etc.) but others are more difficult.  Try to quickly sum up director Joe Wright’s Hanna and you’ll find yourself doing one of these – “Well, this guy raised his girl in isolation to be an assassin, and she goes off and meets this hippie family and gets scared of electric things and then she learns this stuff but it turns out that…”  Whereas other films fall down when they try to blend too many elements together in a single film, Hanna is a beautiful example of how to do it properly.

The film stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular Hanna, a girl who is raised by her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), in a forest for reasons which are unclear at the start of the film.  Hanna really is, in part, about this girl who is trained for unknown reasons to be an assassin. Cate Blanchett is a part of this story as the wonderfully evil Marissa Wiegler.

It would ruin the movie to discuss too much what happens in this tale, but both Hanna and Wiegler are women on a mission, each gunning for the other.  Hanna has nothing at her disposal but that which she finds around her while Wiegler has the power of the CIA (and even less scrupulous individuals) at her beck and call.

This trained teen assassin plot is a hugely intriguing part of the film, and the hook on which everything else is placed, but it isn’t the only aspect of the movie.  Hanna is equally about this teenage girl coming of age and going out into the world.  The stakes are raised more than for the average teen however as Hanna has trained killers—both of the government approved and not-government approved varieties—after her.  Additionally, while Hanna is smart (her father read the encyclopedia to her regularly), finally getting first-hand experiences about things like television, music, and electricity provides a daunting new set of challenges.

Despite not being with her father, she is not alone in the world.  Hanna meets and befriends Sophie (Jessica Barden) and her Bohemian family who just happen to be on a road trip which will put Hanna closer to her destination.  The family doesn’t know that Hanna is anything other than a strange girl, and she is not entirely sure what to make of them.  However, they not only provide her with some cover, but also with another insight into the world, something she desperately needs.

While all of the above is unquestionably true, the discussion omits a lot of the brilliance of the movie.  Hanna isn’t really just about the beautiful blending of these two stories, but about the blending of more than one type of filmmaking as well – it is an action movie that is in no way filmed like an action movie.  There are action sequences in Hanna, but they tend not to be filmed as one expects.   The movie seems to have no desire to bring the audience into the action, but rather to let the fighting wash over the audience.  It happens on screen, but it feels intentionally non-engaging, it is just there, almost like the cool detachment of this girl assassin plying her trade.  The heart and soul of the film is with the story of Hanna learning about who she is and the world around her, the action is how the film gets to tell the story.

The entirety of the film is highly stylized, and to that end the score is done by The Chemical Brothers.  It is an absolutely brilliant mix of styles, from a particularly jaunty tune repeatedly hummed by Isaacs (Tom Hollander), once of Wiegler’s henchman as he cracks skulls and produces burlesque acts, to more techno rhythms.  As with shooting style and editing of the film, the soundtrack is atypical of an action-based spy tale and causes one to sit up and take notice of what they’re watching.

For all its being different and hugely interesting to this reviewer, it isn’t hard to imagine that many others would find the mosaic of elements disconcerting and upsetting.  Hanna isn’t a film which flows as a single cohesive work, however those willing to give it a chance will be well rewarded for their efforts.

The Blu-ray release is of the film is quite a good one, with the many different color palettes used by Wright showing up brilliantly.  From the frozen forest in which Hanna is raised to the desert of Morocco to an abandoned fairytale amusement park, the colors pop off the screen beautifully.  There is ample detail present, good black levels, and nothing is lost in shadows, even when things get dark.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and clear with gunshots ringing out and great thudding bass with the score.  As stated, the score is fantastic and the way it’s been reproduced on the Blu-ray is truly excellent.  Yes, the surrounds come into play during the film and help place you at the center of the action, but it really is the score that stands out more than anything else here on the technical side.

It would be great to see on the Blu-ray an extra giving one the ability to listen solely to the score during the feature, but it is not available.  There are however some other things into which one can sink their teeth including a feature commentary with Wright, a breakdown of a scene, an alternate ending, and deleted scenes.   There are also several short behind-the-scenes featurettes, each tackling one element of the movie.  These featurettes include a talk about the score, a look at Saoirse Ronan’s work before and during the film, a discussion of the location shoots, and a talk about how the film is different from other spy features.  Certainly people will be able to provide plenty of answers for this on their own.  A digital copy of the film is included as well.

Hanna is proof—as if anyone need it—that there is a lot of life left in both the spy- and coming-of-age- genres.  From start to finish, it is a beautifully conceived and executed piece, one which causes you to think, to pay attention, and maybe even—through the eyes of Hanna—to experience the modern world for the first time again.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • ghotter

    What can I say about Joe Wright’s Hanna. Well what an amazing film, exuberating, well crafted and pulsing with energy. It’s a gripping chase movie all the way through – the Music by the Chemical Brothers is brilliant- with Hanna’s theme, The Devil is in the Details, Container Park and Escape Wavefold, just to name a few. The atmosphere is brilliant something like eXistenZ, with unusual sometimes freaky scenery: from the snows of the artic circle to Morocco, Container Parks and of course the abandoned Children’s Theme Park in Germany. The German accents are well done by those who aren’t even German by birth. The whistling song is so addictive, I’ve been whistling it for days. The acting by Saoirse Ronan , Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are all very good. I want to see this film again and get the Chemical Brothers Soundtrack.