Purpose, resolve drive 'Hanna'

Photo: Saoirse Ronan plays the title character in director Joe Wright's latest film, 'Hanna.' Sharing the screen with Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana, Ronan plays a 16-year-old assassin in a refreshing confluence of its literary and cinematic predecessors.
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Saoirse Ronan plays the title character in director Joe Wright's latest film, 'Hanna.' Sharing the screen with Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana, Ronan plays a 16-year-old assassin in a refreshing confluence of its literary and cinematic predecessors.

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A good action movie is hard to find. Fortunately there are rare coins like "Hanna" that stand out from the myriad bland and repetitive efforts. The film features Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, but the real star is the directing of Joe Wright. He takes a script with many disparate threads and weaves a stunning, measured and personal work.

The plot requires some serious attention: The titular Hanna lives in a sub-Arctic hut with her former Spook of a father; he is training her to hunt, kill and survive. "Adapt," he coos.

Hanna's education is so regimented that her father responds to her request to hear music with an entry from the encyclopedia. When she's proven her mettle, her father gives her a mission: Kill the secret agent Marissa Fiegler (played superbly by Cate Blanchett). The father disappears and leaves this 16-year-old girl to trek across the world to kill. In the course of this, Hanna discovers the truth about Marissa, her father and herself.

Of course, this plot description is totally inadequate for describing what happens in "Hanna." There are all sorts of twists, revelations and discoveries that keep the film moving towards a sense of Mission Accomplished (except for one, annoyingly lifted from an Orson Scott Card novel). While the film is well-paced and "action-packed," that's not what makes it especially noteworthy. A well-designed narrative arc does not a good action film make.

Instead, what's compelling about "Hanna" is its stunning visuals and dazzling style. Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler does a stellar job of creating beautiful but menacing compositions in the tundras, deserts and industrial wastelands that make up the film's locales. "Hanna" is also rich with color; its many brilliant greens and reds sparkle on-screen.

The film also invests heavily in literary history. There are complementary nods to "1984" and the Brothers Grimm. The latter is actually central to both the plot and the film's fairy tale aesthetic (a world resembling our own but without the strict realism, a moral at the end, circular nature, etc.) Moreover, Wright liberally quotes from Fritz Lang's "M." While surveillance and the underworld are major subjects of "Hanna," it's the character Isaacs (Tom Hollander) - the cabaret owner-cum-assassin tracking Hanna - who most vividly recalls Lang's work. He's a dead ringer for Peter Lorre, and soon he is entering rooms with leitmotifs (the Chemical Brothers' score really contributes to the overall experience of the film in a variety of ways that I don't have time to get into here) and chasing young Hanna all over Berlin. It's film quotation done right: with tact, purpose and none of orgiastic smugness of a Tarantino film.

Re: Tarantino's "Kill Bill," and by extension Zach Snyder's "Sucker Punch" - the Girls Kicking Ass film genre is a perilous exercise because male directors can easily succumb to the belief that women beating people up is an example of strong femininity, especially when many of these killers are highly sexualized. Tarantino thinks that enough bitten-off penises will justify this absurd rendering of women. Zach Snyder ... frankly, I don't know what he's thinking.

But part of Joe Wright's genius is making Hanna an unwilling participant. She just wants to be a teenage girl, not a killing machine, making her far more human in general - and female in particular.

Contact Derek at [email protected]

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