Ealasaid/ April 18, 2011/ Movie Reviews and Features

Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language.

“Hanna” is a delightfully strange film. It’s a spy thriller with a heavy dose of action that doesn’t quite feel like either a spy film or an action flick. Its heroine is a young woman with deadly martial arts skills and the pitiless strength to use them, but she is no slick, sexy action heroine — she’s more of a confused, bordeline-asexual teenager who happens to know all sorts of ways to kill people. It’s a refreshingly odd, thoroughly tense film.

The title character (Saoirse Ronan) is a pale, almost wraithlike girl who has been raised by her mysterious father, Erik (Eric Bana) in a cabin somewhere just below the Arctic circle. He has taught her numerous languages, all sorts of weapon and hand-to-hand combat skills, and reads to her at night out of an encyclopedia. Eventually he decides she’s ready for the mission for which he has spent her whole life preparing her, and they split up. She is to let herself be found by his old employers, headed by the charmingly deadly Marissa (Cate Blanchett), kill Marissa, escape, and meet him in Germany. Things don’t go entirely as planned, of course, and by the time Hanna manages to meet up with Erik she’s learned enough about both him and herself to have some very serious questions.

The acting is, for the most part, spectacular. Ronan has to virtually carry the entire film on her shoulders, and is more than capable. Hanna is a largely unemotional character, but Ronan is able to make her sympathetic anyway, and make the handful of scenes where the teenager gets to just be a regular teenager both believable and endearing. Hanna spends part of the film traveling with a rather eccentric British family, and their elder child, Sophie (Jessica Barden), gives her a taste of what being a regular teenage girl could be — flirting with cute boys, swapping friendship bracelets, talking in hushed tones under the covers at a sleepover. Hanna doesn’t fit in perfectly (when she wants to kiss the cute boy, her training takes over and she gets him in a headlock instead), but watching her try is both sweet and very funny, a welcome interlude in the deadly cat-and-mouse game that is the rest of the film.

Blanchett is a top-notch actress and gets to really show her chops here, if you can get used to the rather bizarre Southern drawl the character calls for. Marissa is the kind of viper in Armani you’d expect to find in a complex spy thriller, and she makes an excellent foil for the inexperienced but thoroughly deadly and well-trained Hanna.

One bit of the production that really stood out, aside from the occasionally weird cinematography, is the sound design of the film. The long opening sequence in the forest is quiet and spare, and when Hanna finds herself on her own in various urban settings, the noise is almost as unsettling for us as for her. Somehow even the familiar sounds of people and cars take on a menacing tone in the hands of experienced sound designer Craig Berkey.

In the hands of a less creative director, “Hanna” would be a slick, sexy Hollywood flick. Instead, it feels more like a meditation on the difficulties of being a teenager, an indie filmmaker’s look into the private life of a sixteen year old girl. It just so happens that this sixteen year old girl is a painstakingly trained assassin on the run for her life. This isn’t a film to see if you just want to zone out and watch pretty people beat each other up and make things go boom. If you’re looking for something a little bit off the beaten path, however, don’t miss it.

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