Monday, 30 May 2011

Review: HANNA

After Atonement Joe Wright was bound to have some problems living up to audience expectation. As has already been said by this writer, the pristine and immaculate direction of the McEwan classic was a true bar-setter for all literary adaptations, and will most likely remain Wright's best film (presumptious but likely). His two other directorial outings, Pride and Prejudice and The Soloist are both good, but struggle to climb from the 3 star bracket in which they have both comfortably fossilized. It was then a very unforeseen move for him to move into the fantastical with his latest outing, Hanna.
The opening sees its titular character hunting in sub-zero temperatures in ninja attire, before embarking on a fierce fight with her father and instructor, Eric Bana (in pensive eastern European mode). It transpires that Bana is a rogue CIA agent training his daughter from birth in the snowly forests of Finland to become the ultimate assassin - with expertise in numerous martial arts and weaponry as well as speaking a diverse range of languages, with natural instincts in escape and elusion. She is being trained to kill her father's old agency boss - Cate Blanchett as a horrifying and clinical CIA top brass. All Hanna has to do is activate a transmittor and wait for the CIA to come a knocking. What follows is a full-on chase as the intelligence community (with the help of some eastern-European thugs led by the squeamishly techno-camp Isaacs) hunt down Hanna and Erik. There are clearly some scores to settle from both sides, of which we don't find out the true origin until later on in the movie.
The film is a far cry from the etiquette and period costumes where Wright made his name, although that doesn't mean he has strayed far from his roots. Like with Keira Knightley before, Wright has a strong female lead from up-and-coming Saoirse Ronan, with whom he collaborated on Atonement, and here she gets to stretch her chops further with this bizarre and wonderful creation. Hanna is socially inept (having been holed up in the snowly woodlands for years) with the mindset of a guerilla marine, although this does not stop her trying to interact with the outside world - often with humerous results. She is a stone-cold killer, and with a highly-classified background, there is more to her than meets the eye (aside from the obvious assassin qualities!).  
What struck me as most peculiar about this film, is that it felt as though it had been lifted straight from the pages of a comic book - a serious and brutal one penned by Ed Brubaker or Warren Ellis. The range of characters are typical of this type of graphic novel; from the goodness of the lithe abino-like Hanna and her calculated and intense rogue-CIA father Erik, to the evil embodiments of the obsessive-compulsive CIA boss Marissa and her camp tennis-clad mercenary Isaacs (played with apolmb by Tom Hollander). And although this comic-trait sounds like it could be a huge miss, it actually works really well, even if not intended. Even the seventies-homage title credit that sprawls HANNA in blood red with sense-attacking musical accompaniment is like the cover page of a comic - very 'exploitation'.
The only thing lacking from Hanna is violence - and don't get me wrong, this film has it's fair share, but for such evil and wrathful characters, the fight scenes depicted aren't as relentless and hardcore as they should be - one scene sees Hanna fist-fighting with some skinhead thugs, and her moves just don't seem like they would or could do enough damage. It needs that little bit of Kick-Ass's Hit-Girl mixed in with the Jason Bourne style martial accuracy that we have all come to expect from trained killers.
Hanna is the Leon for the post-Bourne world, with a globetrotting scale that takes in the grime and decay of Europe's underbelly. A brave effort from Joe Wright and hopefully a sign that one of Britain's hottest talents is firmly moving away from his comfort zone.

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