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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 14
Hanna a darkly violent coming-of-age fairy tale
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Hanna a darkly violent coming-of-age fairy tale

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Hanna
Opening April 8


You've never seen anything quite like Hanna.

You might think you have, as the trailers for director Joe Wright's latest (a change of pace from the likes of Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist) hint at female-driven action theatrics similar to those found in everything from Salt to Kick-Ass to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But once you get past the silly revenge-fueled scenario, this movie is nothing like those efforts. This wild and wooly adventure is a Eurotrashy, cyberpunk epiphany of sights, sounds, and sensations that's uniquely different than anything to hit screens so far this year.

For 16 years, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised by her widowed father Erik (Eric Bana) in seclusion. In the northern outreaches of Finland, he has taught her all she'll need to know if she decides to introduce herself to the world. He has trained her to fighting perfection, and the teen's survival skills and combat abilities belie both her smallish frame and her young age.

Why has he done this? Years ago, Erik worked for the CIA under a mysterious, cold-hearted woman named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). It is because of her that Hanna's mother is dead. It is because of her they have lived such a simple, yet brutally violent life. This woman will stop at nothing to see Erik dead and to claim Hanna for her own, and if the teenager decides to leave seclusion, then she will have to meet Marissa face-to-face to have any chance at securing a peaceful future.

Forget the plot. The script, by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, is nothing more than an excuse for Wright to indulge himself and throw together something so unusual, so deliciously off-center, so bizarrely nasty and nihilistic, that to describe it in too great a detail would be to spoil all the fun. This is the kind of movie that knocks you sideways, sending you out of the theater both exhilarated and stunned, unsure of what it was you just experienced but just as sure you'd love to sit back and watch it all again.

There are a lot of elements that make this film what it is and give it the kinetic kick in the pants that drives it towards its bleakly exhilarating final moments. Sarah Greenwood's (Sherlock Holmes) production design - especially during a coldly clinical sequence where Hanna busts out of a hidden CIA holding area straight out of the television classic The Prisoner but mixed with a harsh concrete and metal modernism - is magnificent. But then, so is how director of photography Alwin H. Kuchler (Morning Glory) chooses to film it. There is a link between design and cinematography that is undeniable, and it is an elegant, almost ethereal symmetry that exists all the way through the picture.

You can't talk about those elements, however, and not want to wax poetic about Paul Tothill's (Atonement) editing. This is a magnificently put-together feature, and whether Tothill and Wright are putting their own elegant spin on Paul Greengrass' (The Bourne Ultimatum) signature quick-cut style or whether they're using a German esthetic straight out of Fritz Lang (M) or Wim Wender's (Wings of Desire) playbook, the movie has a feel that is as evolving and as enveloping as any I could have imagined. There is a stylistic flourish that feels like classic Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) as the director and his editor call on past influences and confidently make them all their own.

None of this would matter were it not for the performance of Saoirse Ronan. The former Academy Award nominee is marvelous as Hanna, commanding the screen in a way no other actress has in 2011. She is ferocious yet docile, questioning yet confident, winsome yet deadly, and she moves through a whirlwind of emotions with a devastating flourish that's astounding.

There are a pair of scenes that signify this best. The first is a quiet moment between her and Jessica Barden where Hanna realizes she's almost inadvertently managed to make a friend other than her father and - even better - one her own age and gender. The second is a climactic moment with Blanchett, where everything Hanna has learned and discovered on her crazily sadistic journey down the rabbit hole comes to the forefront in a startling way. It's a magnificent, multifaceted performance that struck me in the face with the force of a sledgehammer. Ronan makes the case she is an actress of merit who we are going to be talking about for decades to come.

The other thing that sets Hanna apart from the crowd is the music. The score comes via The Chemical Brothers - acclaimed musicians Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons - giving the movie an audio soundscape so captivating and unique it's stupefying. This is more than your typical techno-pop remix plopped into a film for no other reason than to sell a few soundtracks. The music here accelerates the momentum, increases the emotion, and amplifies the unnatural nature of all that is happening. It is an integral part of the cocktail, making this nitroglycerine-infused drink go down far more smoothly than it would have otherwise.

Hanna won't be for everyone. It is a decidedly amoral entertainment leading to a shockingly barren conclusion that won't satisfy all tastes. But that's one of the reasons I so desperately want to urge people to go and see it. Good films leave you satisfied that you took the time to watch them, great ones give you fodder for debates that can go on for hours after you've left the theater. Wright's latest does this and more, and fans of quality, thought-provoking cinema should make sure and see it immediately.

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