When Kick Ass opened last April to mixed reviews (and controversy), one thing seemed to be generally agreed upon: audiences loved Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl, and many likely clamored for a spin-off. Now, just under a year later, Joe Wright and Saoirse Ronan have given us something close to that dream, albeit with a completely different tone and approach, in Hanna.
Wright's latest film, only his fourth, marks a major departure from previous work (the wonderful Pride and Prejudice and Atonement). However, unlike his last foray into the present (the terribly dull The Soloist), Wright's latest shows the director in a return to form, successfully blending a mix of genres. The end result is something of an art house action thriller that is eerie, beautiful, and at times very, very strange.
Raised in the wilderness by her father Eric (Eric Bana), Hanna (Ronan) has been trained from birth to take care of herself. As the opening act progresses, we begin to understand that Hanna is clearly being trained...for something. She memorizes a fake identity and backstory for herself, all in preparation for her mission, which involves her deliberate capture. Enter Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a CIA operative who has been waiting for Eric to re-emerge from hiding for years.
As we follow Hanna (and Eric for brief moments) as she journeys across Morocco, Spain, and Germany, her story, and the film as a whole, become stranger and stranger, mostly to the film's benefit. The script takes its time with developments, never rushing for the sake of getting Hanna from point A to B. When Hanna meets up with a British family on a road trip (headed by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemying), the film becomes quite funny, despite the looming threats of Marissa and her henchman Isaacs (Tom Hollander). In the scenes with the family, Hanna really allows its protagonist to develop further than merely as a fish out of water (which Wright executes with great skill in a scene in a Moroccan hotel). It's the first time when we get to see that Hanna is more than a super-skilled killing machine; she's actually a teenage girl, albeit a highly unusual one.
Making both of these facets of the character wholly believable is young Ms. Ronan, showing a maturity that seems eerily beyond her years. Like her co-star, Ms. Blanchett, Ronan is an inherently commanding presence. She flips the switch between killer and real girl so effortlessly, all the more impressive because the character isn't the most talkative person. Other roles are decently played, though no one is really given enough to make a mark. That is, except for Blanchett, slathering a thick Texas drawl on her lines, to hugely entertaining effect. Blanchett has a tendency to play more sympathetic characters in film, so it's a bit of a joy to see the actress cut loose in such a cold, menacing role. Wright works wonders with the performance as well, using a close up of Blanchett's wide-open eye to deliver a spectacular little jump near the film's end.
This of course brings us to the film's third biggest star, Mr. Wright himself. The film's screenplay, courtesy of David Farr and Seth Lochhead, certainly has its shortcomings. In spots it's too vague, and I'm sure the more I think about the film, the more little plot holes will pop up (they deserve credit though, for not feeling the need to over-explain everything). And that's why Wright deserves so much credit for making this film work. The director's visual flair remains fully intact despite the modern setting, and scenes across all locations are richly shot and decorated. The director even gets to throw in his most notable trick, a tracking shot, to superb effect in a slow-building pursuit that explodes into a fist fight. Action scenes as a whole are effective as well, because they're used strictly to further the plot, and are supported by characters who are actually in danger (please take notice, Zack Snyder). Aiding him in his vision is a pulsating score from The Chemical Brothers, which, despite being played too loud at times, adds immeasurably to the flow and ambience of scenes. In some spots, the style becomes a little too much and draws too much attention to itself. But on the whole, the elements mesh to constantly engaging effect.
Whatever its issues, and there are issues, Hanna is most certainly a case where a director (and his cast) elevate flawed material into something better than it was strictly on paper. In Wright's hands, what could have been a scatter-shot attempt at an artsy thriller becomes wholly compelling, even if it is somewhat on the shallow side. At its best, it's as cool and compelling as its protagonist's icy blue stare, and that's no small accomplishment.