Going into Joe Wright’s “Hanna” I had some high expectations; director of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” music by The Chemical Brothers and a main character that looked like a real world version of Hit Girl from the movie “Kick A*s.” Coming out of the film I found a very good action film with a great soundtrack but several lingering questions.
The first question was why? Why did this story have to take place at all? We’re introduced to 16 year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan – “Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones”) and her dad Erik (Eric Bana) as they hunted and trained in the wilds of Finland. Hanna wanted to go out into the world to discover the parts of life that were excluded from her remote and rigorous upbringing. Erik then set up a scenario where they revealed their existence to his former boss at the CIA, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blancett), and she then tried to kill them both. Why? It made no sense to me that this would be a condition for going out into the real world. Everyone thought they were dead. With Erik’s skills and the training Hanna received they could easily have made the journey under the radar. I wished they had started the movie this way and then failed through some oversight on Erik’s part or some fish-out-of-water moment for Hanna.
While the opening for the movie concerned me, most of the rest of the movie was fairly well done. Saoirse Ronan brought an alien quality to the awkwardness of a 16 year old discovering the world for the first time. We got some good “Kick-A*s” moments as Hanna proved her time in the wild doing combat training with her Dad hadn’t been wasted. She dispatched combatants in an effective and artistic dance of death. As we learned more about Hanna and why she was special, we learned that what made her special also created challenges for Hanna as she tried to integrate into a society far less controlled and narrow than the one she was in for 16 years.
Cate Blancett gave a great portrayal of a meticulous and detail oriented, control enthusiast in CIA agent Marissa Wiegler who was confronted with some nasty loose ends from her past. Her story arc towards closure was aided by Isaacs (Tom Hollander), an over-the-top German assassin who found glee in torturing his victims before they were dispatched.
My second question about Hanna involved a lack of compassion that let her be an efficient soldier but less than fully human. The character was comically detached, describing the muscles needed to kiss when confronted with a teenage boy who made the moves on her. But with the tagline of “Adapt or Die,” when Hanna hooked up with an English family touring North Africa, I expected her to adapt to being around a loving family by developing compassion for others. To me the filmmakers missed an opportunity to explore Hanna’s emerging humanity when the plot drove her to the date with destiny climax rather than have her deal with what it means to have connections to other people in the real world. In the movie “Kick A*s,” Hit Girl went from being an assassin with a warped upbringing to acting like a normal girl in an unrealistically easy way. Hanna showed the flip-side of this by barely connecting with anyone.
In addition to the director and the story, a reason I was excited to see this movie was the involvement of the musical group The Chemical Brothers. As techno icons, The Chemical Brothers have made several albums of sample-heavy big beat dance music. But with “Hanna” they showed a diversity of sound shaping that pumped up the energy during the action and accented the urban incidental scenes to great effect. There were times when the sounds of the music mixed with the normal sounds of the city in such a way as to create something more than music for mood or tempo. In general music played a special role in “Hanna” with the main character entirely cut off from music during her 16 years in the wilds of Finland. She became entranced by the music of the peoples she encountered from Moroccan pop to Spanish folk music but in the end even this didn’t incite stirrings of humanity. She remained an outsider without even trying her hand at any of the singing or dancing.
In the end “Hanna” was a good movie but not a great movie. I had very high expectations for Joe Wright and don’t want to minimize what he did right in this film. The acting was solid, the cinematography was good, the music was great and even the directing was good. I had a few issues with the story but overall “Hanna” succeeded as an action movie.