Unsurprisingly, one of the first thoughts bound to cross your mind while watching Hanna is how, in the blink of an eye, such a disarming, adorable teenage girl can morph into a deadly assassin. As played by the wonderful Saoirse Ronan, the titular heroine in Joe Wright’s new action thriller is not to be trifled with. She is as good-natured, considerate and brilliant as she is superfit, strong and possessed of the ability to snap your neck in a heartbeat.
Is she human? Certainly that’s a question that drives much of the plot.
Raised military-camp style by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) in a wintery Northern European forest – nothing short of an Arctic wilderness – Hanna Heller’s childhood is replete with soldier training, food-hunting expeditions, anxiety and bleakness, bereft of the little pleasures other girls her age take for granted all over the world.
The reason for her exile-type childhood: her father is in hiding from shady agents from his past intent on eliminating him, chief among them the mechanical, icy Marisa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett attempting her best dragon-lady impression), who is responsible for the three bullets that killed Hanna’s mother.
Although losing yourself in the experience of the film requires much suspension of belief and a great deal of patience, it wins you over with neatly choreographed fight sequences and the riveting, action-driven sense of adventure that thoroughly envelops the movie.
But the ace in the hole is the casting of 16-year-old Ronan as Hanna, an ideal, inspired choice. She brings an alluring mix of curiosity, radiance, intelligence and warmth to the role, but becomes a study in contrasts and contradictions when she is forced to summon her deadly fighting spirit. And that’s exactly what happens when Hanna escapes to Morocco (where she encounters a charming family on vacation) with lethal pursuers hot on her heels.
One of the better, solidly entertaining films to hit the box office this year, Hanna is additionally notable for reuniting Ronan with Wright, the director who guided her three years ago to a supporting-actress Oscar nomination for Atonement (at age 13.) Their seemingly easy working relationship again reaps rich dividends; if Ronan has any difficulty bearing the weight of the film on her young, slender shoulders, she conceals it remarkably well as she simply thrives on-screen.