Hanna is director Joe Wright’s latest film starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana and Tom Hollander. The movie tells the story of a young girl trained as an assassin who goes on a revenge mission.
This simple story is so well crafted, perfectly expressed through directorial touches and exquisitely performed, that Hanna quickly becomes much more than a typical spy movie. This film, which is actually a fairy tale, uses exciting action and familiar characters to easily become one of the best films of the year.
On the surface, Hanna looks like a typical spy action or thriller flick, but even after the first couple minutes the mise-en-scene and originality reveal so much more just below the surface. Nothing about Hanna feels cursory or flippant. Every aspect of the film is accomplished and carefully made to make something bigger than its parts. While it is possible to enjoy the movie on a purely action-oriented level, the movie offers juicy touches to those looking for them. In fact, as a pure action movie, Hanna may disappoint.
Hanna is, in the end, a modern-day fairy tale. A young, innocent virgin must set right the powers that wronged her and her family. There is an evil witch, a helpful sidekick and quests. The film immerses the audience in a different world where things are just a little different. Europe is the location in this case, looking familiar but still distant.
The film does not tie up every loose end in a tidy happily-ever-after ending because by the end of the movie, things have fallen apart. The story has strayed from the cookie-cutter formula to become a much more visceral look at broken families and modern life.
Mostly known for his period dramas, Wright makes an astounding transition to the action/thriller genre. His thorough understanding of the human psyche is apparent and important in the success of this modern-day fairy tale. At times subtle but frequently overt in extending meaning to the audience, the fairy tale archetypes are sometimes modernized to be easy to understand for today’s audience. Sometimes the archetypes are ancient in their truthfulness. Other times they are twisted to be both at once. While typical audience members may not notice these suave touches, they are the frosting on the cake that takes the experience to the next level.
The action in Hanna is surprisingly sparse, but when it does come around, it punches. The fight scenes and action sequences are so good that the audience always wants more of them. The sequences are all grounded and very visceral.
There are not situations where people are leaping around or impossible swordplay defying reason. The action scenes are mostly just people beating on each other. Wright does seem a little wary of them, carefully making each one to get it just right. None of the scenes have a wild, uncontrolled frenetic energy that would have pushed the movie into the next dimension, but the argument is that the characters would not let that happen.
At its core, characters drive Hanna. The whole existence of the movie concerns its namesake. The audience will come for the promise of a spy action/thriller and will stay and care for the characters and their plights. One of the most compelling cast members is Cate Blanchett’s character, whose Southern drawl comes and goes a little too much, especially to those familiar with the affliction. Despite this, Blanchett shines as always.
The real star is Saoirse Ronan as the titular character who is best known to American audiences for her roles in Atonement and The Lovely Bones. Ronan personifies innocence and also death when appropriate.
Hanna is one of the best character-driven action movies in a long time. So many similar movies are simply disappointing. Hanna is not one of them. It delivers an engrossing story in a style that augments the characters as people and punctuates it with action that is not superfluous to the story. This re-imagined fairy tale draws audiences in with its visual style and real characters to establish, hopefully, a new franchise.