Adapt or die – “Hanna”, reviewed

Diminutive assassin and spell-check challenge Saoirse Ronan in “Hanna”

Hanna is my kind of action movie.

Directed by Joe Wright, who previously brought you such pulse-pounding, seat-edge filling thrill rides as “Pride & Prejudice”, “Atonement” “The Soloist” and that bloody annoying Chanel commercial with Keira Knightley, “Hanna” benefits immensely from having a director behind the camera who usually doesn’t make this kind of movie, resulting in a one-of-a-kind experience, crammed full of images and moments which live on long after the film has finished.

“Hanna” has a delightfully simple story – A strange feral girl (Saoirse Ronan) living in the Finnish wilderness with her Dad (Eric Bana) one day decides to accept her birthright and go to the big city to kill lots of CIA types – and merrily splices as many genres as it can get away with for the bulk of its one hour and 46 minute running time to quite grand effect.  It’s an action movie with the languid pace of the best seventies road movies, a teen coming of age drama that’s at least half off-beat, art house festival fare and a story about the difficulties of modern parenting rather rudely interrupted by frequent outbreaks of murderous, hand-to-hand combat.

It is, dear friends, a veritable locker full of bonkers and all the better for it.

Getting beyond the credibility issues introduced by the film having a pint-sized teenage girl be an amoral killing machine capable of brutally dispatching anybody who gets in her way, the way that Wright subverts some of the expected tropes of the spy action genre more than compensates for some of the insanity inherent in the premise – just when you’re convinced that you’ve got this film’s number and that you’re in for another slice of pan-European property destruction and moody intensity akin to “The Bourne Identity” and its sequels, Wright has Hanna abscond from her pursuers with a family of British hippy travellers, led by the glorious Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng for an extended stretch of the film.

Rather than filling the film with wall-to-wall violence, Wright picks his set pieces carefully and stages them with the eye of a master, assisted greatly in this endeavour by director of photography Alwin Kuchler – whose previous work includes the likes of “Sunshine”, “Code 46” and my favourite, “Morvern Callar” – and the two combine to brilliant effect in a virtuoso, one-take fight scene which casually bests the similar extended take in “Atonement” whilst never feeling like an effort in directorial self one-upmanship (if that is, indeed, a thing).

The performances are great.  Ronan’s an appealingly distant, eccentric and out-of-place character, wandering into an adult world with the ability to kick the crap out of world-class assassins but wholly out of her depth when trying to navigate the unspoken codes and expectations of a date.  She manages to make this pulp fiction character somehow seem real, by virtue of delivering the physical action with skill and occupying the emotional side of the role without seeming to pander or tear-jerk unduly.  Bana’s also great, but is in the film less than I expected him to be – his confrontations with Cate Blanchett as the rogue operative self-tasked with ending Hanna’s young life are a highlight and underscore that you expect virtually none of this cast to be in action thriller like this.

I would be remiss if I ended my review of “Hanna” without noting the awesome score by The Chemical Brothers, which is so perfectly pitched to the film that you wish more directors enlisted musicians to score movies – and I mean do mean write a score as opposed to having a music supervisor hunt-and-peck the catalogues of record labels to produce a saleable soundtrack album.  Perhaps the best thing about their “Hanna” score is the fact that it often doesn’t sound like the Chemicals tracks I remember from the glory days of Big Beat/Electronica in the late nineties – there’s a woozy, low-fi, existential quality to the music in this film which recalls the likes of Board of Canada as much as it does the Chemicals brand of pumping, electronic battle weapon bass.  And that’s no bad thing.

An action movie for people who don’t really like action movies and a thriller-travelogue-teen-fairytale-family drama which defies easy categorisation, “Hanna” is one to add to your queue promptly if you haven’t seen it.   I really rather enjoyed it.

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1 Comment

Filed under Films, Geekery

One response to “Adapt or die – “Hanna”, reviewed

  1. I love this movie! Great review! I think that Saoirse Ronan is a pretty good young actress. I enjoyed her in City of Ember, Lovely Bones, and Atonement. I hope to seerily her in more upcoming movies.

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