Hanna (2011)

Hanna has been marketed as a cross between an art house film and an action flick.  While the film definitely boasts a more interesting and eclectic cast than most action movies, it eventually does nothing more than borrow bits and pieces from The Bourne Identity, Run Lola Run, and Léon.  This lack of originality doesn’t keep it from being an effective movie, but anyone looking for something new while getting their action fix may be disappointed.

Saoirse Ronan plays the titular character, a teenager who has been raised by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), in the frozen wasteland of the Arctic Circle.  They live in a cabin with no  modern conveniences, surviving by hunting for food and making clothes out of animal skins.  Erik not only teaches Hanna how to hunt, but also how to fight with any number of weapons and how to speak several different languages.  What he doesn’t teach her is how to interact with people like a normal teenaged girl would.

Deciding that her training is complete, Erik lets Hanna trigger a radio device that leads a team of CIA commandos to their cabin.  As part of a plan that’s not nearly as twisty as everyone in the film seems to think, Erik slips out before the commandos arrive, allowing them to find Hanna and take her into custody.  But the commandos weren’t looking for Hanna.  They were looking for Erik, who turns out to be a former CIA agent, believed to have killed his girlfriend–Hanna’s mother–before disappearing over a decade earlier.

The commando team takes Hanna to a highly classified facility where a CIA agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) eagerly awaits her arrival.  It seems that Marissa was Erik’s handler before he went rogue and his reappearance has shaken her.  But she takes a special interest in Hanna’s existence.  While scientists do blood tests on her, Hanna is interviewed by a psychiatrist as Marissa watches via video.  When Hanna specifically asks to speak to Marissa by name, another agent, wearing a wig to help her match Marissa’s general appearance, enters the room.  Before anyone can react, Hanna has broken the impostor’s neck, shot several guards and escaped from the facility.

So begins an international chase, as Hanna, who believes she has completed her mission to kill Marissa, makes her way across Morocco and Europe to meet up with Erik in Berlin.  But hot on her trail is Marissa and a hired goon (Tom Hollander) who is able to do unsavory things the CIA won’t allow Marissa to do in her pursuit.  But why does Marissa have such an obsession with catching up to Erik and Hanna while keeping her superiors in the dark?  Why were the lab technicians surprised and confused by Hanna’s test results?  And why does Erik want Marissa killed so badly that he would raise and train his daughter for this one specific purpose?  All of these questions are eventually answered, but the answers are so basic and unimaginative that they suck some of the momentum out of the film during a third act that should be alive with excitement and suspense.

The director, Joe Wright, is known more for Oscar-bait films like Atonement and one of the approximately five thousand adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.  While he does a more than commendable job with the action beats in Hanna, he fails to cover up some of the more glaring plot and character holes in the screenplay by Seth Lockhead and David Farr.

The character of Hanna, in particular, is a mess of contradictions.  In one scene, she is confused and frightened by such mundane modern conveniences as a ceiling fan and a television, in another scene, roughly forty minutes later, she is expertly navigating the Internet.  This change is supposed to be explained away by a mantra that Erik drills into her head: “Adapt or die.”  But we never get to see the actual adaptation process.  How does Hanna even know what the Internet is, much less know to go to an Internet cafe and teach herself how to use it?  Yes, she is supposed to be a supremely intelligent girl, but it feels like a cheat that the audience is expected to accept that she’s smart, so she just knows the Internet exists and she can extract information from it.  It’s a frustrating bit that pulled me out of the movie and could have very easily been explained if Wright would just take the thirty-seconds needed to show Hanna observing other people using the Internet.

Unfortunately, the script also relies on the annoying ploy to have characters act dumber than they are to move the action along.  Erik is shown time and again to be intelligent and paranoid, allowing him to avoid capture.  When he is confronted by various bad guys, he displays a ruthlessness and ability to improvise that tell us more about his character than any of the flashbacks Wright uses to flesh out the tragic backstory that links Erik and Hanna’s mother to Marissa.  But then his character makes several monumental mistakes in the third act that are completely out of character.  Simply put: Erik is turned into a bumbling idiot to move the plot in the direction of its foregone climax.

Even more annoying is the attempt by Wright to frame the movie as a twisted fairy tale.  The only fiction book that Hanna has read is a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the climax of the film takes place in an abandoned Brothers Grimm-themed amusement park.  This leads to several forced metaphors turning Marissa alternately into the wicked witch, an evil stepmother, and the Big Bad Wolf (although this aspect of her personality is presented in a clever visual gag as the dental hygiene-obsessed Marissa uses a magnifying mirror to check her teeth after brushing and flossing until her gums bleed).  But if Marissa is supposed to represent the evil antagonist and Hanna is the little girl lost in the woods, what role does Erik embody?  Is he the ineffectual father figure who is easily duped by the evil stepmother?  If so, this description is the exact opposite of the paranoid and dangerous Erik.

But attempts to tell a modern, violent fairy tale are swept aside as the film hits every predictable action beat.  The fact that it delivers on the action front despite Wright’s fumbling of the characters is actually impressive.  Much of this success is due to the driving score by The Chemical Brothers and Ronan’s endearing, heartfelt performance.  It’s hard to think of another young actress who could have so believably expressed the horror and confusion that she displays in the film.  Without her, the already glaring problems would have been magnified to an inexcusable level.

Despite all my complaints, it’s hard not to like Hanna as just a simple action film.  If Wright had played the the proceedings as a straight up revenge flick, I probably would have liked it quite a bit more just because of Ronan’s performance.  But the pretentious sheen he brings to the film actually holds it back and raises expectations to a level that the simple script is unable to match.  Sometimes an action film really is just an action film.  Such is the case with Hanna.

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