While original ideas are few and far between in Hollywood these days, once in awhile an homage is plenty fine by me. Quentin Tarantino has been doing the genre wonders for years, so why not let someone else put on their game face? And while Joe Wright may not be the first person that comes to mind for traveling in QT’s footprints (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice and The Soloist), Wright assuredly marches in unleashing his own brand of female empowerment with Hanna.
Armed with one of the best casts this side of an art house film (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng), it’s the perfect casting of almost 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan that’s Wright’s true coup de grace. After directing her to her first Oscar nomination back in 2007 in Atonement, she proves herself a true force to be reckoned with. While this role may not bring about her second nomination, it will definitely put her in a well deserved limelight. For further proof of just how well a young actress can carry a film, just watch her in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Stucci was far from the best thing about that production.
In Hanna, we are immediately introduced to our title character in the Alaskan tundra’s where she silently tracks, kills, and guts a caribou all by her lonesome. A man sneaks up behind her informing her, “You’re dead — I’ve killed you,” and a fight ensues. It’s not a real fight per se because we learn that this man is Hanna’s father, Erik Heller (Bana). Having lived in the wilderness their entire life, Hanna has never heard music but can speak at least 4 languages. She keeps telling her father that she yearns for more and that this life isn’t enough.
One morning, Eric gives Hanna a transponder and tells her that with the flip of a switch it will inform “her” of their location. After Eric takes off to hunt for food he returns home to find the beacon flashing and learns that his little girl has finally grown up. Now “her,” Marissa Wiegler (Blanchet), is put on the case having a close history with Erik from the past and now we find out that he is an MIA government agent who’s been AWOL for 16 years. We also learn that Marissa is who killed Hanna’s mother when she was a baby and is the reason they’ve been in hiding her entire life.
Very quickly, Hanna is captured and taken to a bunker where she’s questioned before informing that she would like to speak to Marissa. A decoy is sent in who Hanna quickly dispatches along with everyone else who gets in her way of escape and finds her way out only to find out that she’s somewhere in the middle of the Moroccan desert. After walking for miles she comes across a family consisting of pseudo-hippy parents, Rachel and Sebastian (Williams and Flemyng), their teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden), and son Miles (Aldo Maland). Meanwhile Sophie and Miles both take up quite a liking for young independent Hanna.
Meanwhile, Marissa is doing everything in her power to cover up why she is after both Erik and Hanna while they’re both trying to find and kill her too. Bring in some of Marissa’s dispatchable cohort Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his merry band of misfit compadres who are more than willing to go to any extremes to track down Hanna for her. Now Marissa is just hoping to stay one step ahead of both of them to keep them from finding her first.
The screenplay manages to bring badassery to all kinds of new levels thanks to Seth Lochhead and David Farr in their screenwriting debuts (and what a debut it is!) But I can’t help but assume that without the artistic finesse that Wright brings whether it’s his stunning cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler or his tight editing courtesy Paul Tothill or the tremendous score realized by The Chemical Brothers. Everything plays together so cohesively and the pace flies by so fast you’d never realize that this whopping thriller runs 112 minutes. Erik instills a mantra of “adapt or die” within Hanna and it seems to be Wright’s as well when it comes to making the move from stuffy period pieces to high flying action flicks. This is as close to a Kill Bill: Volume 3 as we’re gonna see until Tarantino finally gets around to serving us another cold dish of revenge.
When I mentioned Tarantino in opening, there’s a reason. Here we have a film with such artistic merit that it feels like an independent art house flick while the mass consumer viewers can have their cake and eat it too. Whether it’s a long single take subway fight ala Oldboy or a song that sounds a lot like “Tu Mira” by Lole y Manuel from the Kill Bill: Volume 2 soundtrack, right down to the story managing to brilliantly end coming full circle, there’s something for everybody here, it’s just a matter of telling whether anyone will see it. Hopefully this doesn’t wind up suffering from the Scott Pilgrim effect – being the film critics adored that won’t find an audience until it hits home video.
Also like I said, the more accolades thrown Ronan’s way the better. Here she gives her all to bring a fully nuanced performance where we see a girl who’s totally entranced, bewildered and ultimately frightened nearly to death by electricity; loves the feel of the wind across her body whether she’s walking alone in the desert or riding on the back of a young boys’ motorcycle. It’s also rather curious that she attempts to kiss a boy then nearly breaks his neck for actually trying then turns around and finally kisses Sophie in thanks for being her friend.
While this weekend features another high tale of an epic journey (Your Highness), here’s one that you’d first expect to show up at your local art house and not playing in the theater next door. But hopefully the film finds its audience as it more than deserves to turn into the sleeper hit of the spring. Although so does another little film that’s already headed that way right now (Insidious). So alas, take a chance on Hanna and you’ll be far from sorely mistaken.
Photos courtesy Focus Features