A taut, effective thriller: Review of ‘Hanna’
Published: Thursday, April 21, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2011 14:04
Director Joe Wright's revenge thriller, "Hanna," reminds us of a lesson we should already know: effective suspense doesn't require CGI. It doesn't require explosions. It certainly doesn't require 150 minutes. In this case, a good script and cinematography, some nice performances and a whirlwind chase across Europe trump every Michael Bay film ever made, on about one-eighth of the usual Hollywood budget.
Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl raised in the woods of northern Finland by her self-exiled CIA agent father, Erik (Eric Bana). Life is fairly typical for a father and daughter stranded in the woods, meaning elk hunting, foreign language learning, martial arts training and planning to one day kill Marissa Viegler (Kate Blanchett), the American intelligence agent who murdered Hanna's mother 15 years earlier in an attempt to claim Hanna as her own protégé.
When the plan is set in motion, including a frenetic escape sequence in the Moroccan desert and a father-and-daughter rendezvous in Berlin, we quickly realize that "Hanna" isn't bent on moralizing. The glut of violence unleashed by all sides of the cat-and-mouse game is indiscriminate. There are no clear perpetrators and victims, as everyone involved is both hunter and hunted. We are left with an exceptionally somber film in which survival is all that matters.
But Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr make Hanna's survival matter very much. Writing Hanna as equal parts charming fish-out-of-water and unrepentant sociopath, they make the character an unlikely blend of sympathetic and terrifying qualities. With a lot of help from the talented Ronan and an edgy soundtrack from the Chemical Brothers, action sequences in which a young woman looking fresh from the Miss Teen Norway pageant kicks around adult male assassins actually seem believable, at least for a minute. This is no small feat.
There's even comic relief. Hanna hooks up with a family of British tourists, including a teen girl named Sophie (Jessica Barden) meant to serve as the spoiled, materialist foil to Hanna's ruthless self-reliance. In a series of comic vignettes that are both sad and funny, we realize how hopelessly unfit Hanna is to lead a normal life.
Along the way, though, we realize something else. As the film none-too-subtly points out, this is the story of a mother who promises to give her child to a witch, but then hides her away in the woods instead, until the day the witch comes calling. It is a dark, old-school fable, the kind that centuries of European children would have recognized, before Walt Disney and American attitudes about child-rearing distorted them into giddy cartoons with ill-fitting happy endings.
"Hanna" isn't flawless. Its plot is by-the-numbers predictable, and its attempts to create a full-circle symmetry, particularly at the conclusion, can seem heavy-handed and obvious. But the pacing is pitch-perfect, the performances are compelling and the bleak nihilism at the center of it works as well as the Grimm's fairy tales that the movie takes for its inspiration.
111 minutes. PG-13.