Thursday, 5 May 2011

Little Girl Lethal: Hanna review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Joe Wright
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Olivia Williams
Running Time: 111mins

The term 'running time' has scarcely felt more appropriate attached to any film this side of Run Lola Run, with which Joe Wright's Hanna shares a great deal in common. After an opening ten minutes where Saoirse Ronan's eponymous heroine, living out of a cabin in deep a snowy Finnish forest, hunts down a stag as part of a gruelling training regimen set by her father, a flick of a symbolic switch sets her loose on the world and the film barely stops for breath until the final shot.

Although comparisons will inevitably made with Kick-Ass' Hit-Girl or Sucker Punch, which Joe Wright publicly denounced for its lascivious representations of women under the guise of 'empowerment', Hanna's use of the 'little girl assassin' modern trope is more purposeful than its exploitation-influenced competition. It helps that in Saoirse Ronan, whom Wright discovered for his wartime drama Atonement, the film leads with an actress so ridiculously capable as to make the switch between doe-eyed innocent and trained killer seem an entirely natural transition.

Hanna is not what you'd call a subtle film, but does invite some interesting questions. Wright barely allows a scene to go by without reminding us of the fairy tale influences underpinning his story: taking his heroine to her grandma's house, who gets 'eaten' early on by the big bad, and concluding in a Brothers Grimm theme park feel like overkill, but at least the film is always sure of what it wants to say. Like all fairytales, it is a coming-of-age story, albeit with woodsmen and wolves updated into trigger-happy assassins and a cruel CIA matron obsessed with dental hygiene. It's certainly clear why Joe Wright took such objection to Sucker Punch, as both films feature prominent fantasy motifs and girls learning their own strength, but deliver very different messages.

It's unfortunate that this clarity of intent does not extend to Joe Wright's direction, which feels forced in its quirkiness. In Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer's mishmash of styles had the purpose of exemplifying the acid-tripping wildness of the ascendant MTV culture. When Wright sends his camera into a spin in Hanna, it might emphasize his character's disorientation, but feels a needlessly intrusive and showy way of doing so when the story that doesn't justify such a choice. This makes it difficult to credit him with his successes when heavy-handedness elsewhere make you wonder whether he just got lucky. That's probably unfair, as there are some remarkably well-shot sequences on show, with standouts being an underground fight where Eric Bana dispatches a team of CIA thugs in an underground station is filmed in a single thrilling take, and a chase through a shipping container yard where the characters are easy to keep track of despite taking place in a maze of identical-looking crates. But earlier fight scenes, all messy cuts and shaky camerawork, do raise that doubt.

These sequences are set to a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers, its heavy Euro-trance influences again giving off strong Lola vibes. As with Wright's direction, it's a mixed bag that tends to be showy rather than invisibly enhancing its scenes, but does give the film a distinctive flavour. I'm the first to complain at the generic scoring that is applied to the majority of modern genre films and the Chemical Brothers' work is anything but, though can feel too deliberately different for its own good. When the film reaches Berlin, it works as a nod to Lola (again), but the point remains that where that film's nightclub aesthetics worked in the context of the story, such flourishes do not sit so naturally in Hanna's world.

The unpredictable nature of Hanna's composition does bring a kind of kinetic energy to the film despite itself, but it's Saoirse Ronan's remarkable performance at its heart that keeps everything on track. Of the formidable little girls who have enjoyed so much time on screen recently, Hanna is the most complicated. Though trained since birth by her father for the sole purpose of eliminating a target, what had not been taken into account was the effect of throwing a young girl into a world she had been completely isolated from for all of her sixteen years. She may be able to kill a man with a flick of her wrist, but the barrage of everyday noise from crowds, televisions and telephones overwhelms her. Music delights her in ways she cannot understand, and her only reaction to the thrilling anxiety of an impending kiss from an attractive boy is to fight back. A holding cell in a CIA stronghold is a more comfortable environment for her than a hotel room, because it demands only instincts she is familiar with.

Ronan plays every facet of the role with conviction, her steely blue eyes distant as much through isolation as terror. When she and her new friend Sophie whisper intimately under their bedsheets, a scene reprised by Wright from his Pride & Prejudice adaptation, the conflict between the character's longing for a friendship and fear of bringing someone she cares about into her dangerous life plays out compellingly on Ronan's face. Her performance dominates the film, as it would even if Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett weren't hamstrung by distracting accents.

Hanna is not perfect by any measure, but its ambitions and flaws at least offer a different, more thoughtful slant on the action film. Wright's schizophrenic direction may ring false, but he achieves the right marks during the key action sequences and Saoirse Ronan gives a performance that hits hard, aiming for the heart and never missing. [ 7 ]


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