Hanna: A Darker Kind of Fairy Tale

Hanna is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Part dark fairy tale and part espionage thriller, the plot is one of the most straightforward of any movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl who has been kept secluded from the world by her father Erik (Eric Bana) for her entire life. Her childhood is straight out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales; she has been raised in the cold forests of Finland and taught about history, language and culture from repeated readings of the same books.

Any time she does not spend learning, she spends hunting and training. She is an expert marksman and exceptionally strong for a girl so young, and essentially has been turned into a living weapon.

The reason for all this training becomes apparent very early. Hanna and her father are being pursued by CIA handler Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett) – a new brand of wicked witch – and they are hiding in Finland to avoid detection. As Erik explains, Weigler will not stop hunting them until she is dead or Hanna is.

The audience is told who the main villain is before we even see her on screen, and that does not change for the entire 111-minute running time of the film. There are no enemies becoming friends or friends becoming enemies, and there is never any question about which side is right.

There is very little time wasted on providing  subplots or superfluous information. We are given just about everything we need to know up front, and the rest of the film is spent following the three main characters as they chase each other.

That concept is one of the most interesting of the film. The three characters pursuing each other all are aware of the others and know they are coming after them. There is no element of surprise to benefit either side, which adds extra tension to each scene.

And as Hanna ventures into the world for the first time, we see the inherent contradiction of her own existence. She has vast amounts of knowledge, but has no experience with which to apply it.

She can spout the theory of electricity and speak fluent Arabic, but freaks out at the sounds of ceiling fans and televisions. She is fully prepared and capable of hunting down Weigler, but it is common social etiquette she can’t grasp.

All of these thoughts are sold remarkably well by Ronan, who highlights a cast of actors who all give great performances. A film with such a direct plot can get bogged down at times (and this one occasionally does), but Hanna largely succeeds because of the actors and the direction by Joe Wright.

Wright makes sure no scenes are wasted and makes excellent use of foregrounds and backgrounds. When characters are close to being caught, scenes scroll sideways to reveal the nearby threats.

As the camera follows next to the hunted, we see the hunters lying in wait behind pillars in the foreground or following in the background. Sometimes the reveals happen so quickly you can blink and miss them.

These chases are inevitably followed by fight scenes, which are raw, visceral and well choreographed. There are no ridiculous flips or unnecessary moves, just fists, feet and elbows flying. Every fight seems real and has legitimate intensity.

It is also worth noting that the chase and fight scenes are accompanied by an outstanding soundtrack done by the Chemical Brothers. Tense at some points and frantic at others, it always complements the action and tone of the scene well.

Despite its obvious strengths, Hanna is not without its flaws. While Bana and Blanchett’s acting performances are both solid, their characters do not get nearly as much growth as the titular Hanna. In fact, there is virtually no characterization of them at all.

They are both chasing each other out of a sense of vengeance, the reason for which becomes clear throughout the film, but that is just about all they are there for. Erik provides the training necessary for Hanna to become what she is, and Weigler provides the end goal. Those are their only purposes.

And while Wright’s direction was mostly unique and appropriate, there are times his style became distracting. In a few scenes, the way he chose to frame things became the focus instead of what was actually happening on screen. And a couple times he tried to go for surprises that just didn’t work.

But for the most part, Hanna is a taut thriller that stays interesting from beginning to end. The premise may not be original and the plot may be direct, but the quality rises thanks to solid acting performances from everyone involved, interesting direction and an outstanding soundtrack.


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