Sunday, 4 September 2011
Starring: Saorise Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams
By Alan Bacchus
What a pleasure to see Joe Wright, the helmer of the handsome but overly precious prestige dramas Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist, switch gears and execute a balls out action film.
At every turn Wright is conscious to cure his system of complacency and subvert any expectations from his previous work. Here he revels in unconventionality. The opening act is a tepidly paced introduction to Hanna (Ronan), a 16-year-old girl who is being trained in all forms of survival by her father (Bana) in the snowcapped wilderness. She can fight, shoot guns, use bows and arrows and knives, etc. She knows multiple languages and can recite geographic and historical statistics like a human encyclopedia. This is the life of Hanna until the moment she asks about a mysterious box with a red button. "Push the button," her father says, "and the outside world will be alerted to your presence." What a great 'call to arms.'
Like Neo's (The Matrix) choice of red pill or blue pill, how can she NOT press this button? So she presses it, and indeed a team of American CIA-type agents come running to capture her. Clearly it’s by design that Hanna meets a mysterious woman, Marissa Weigler, who has been so prominent in her dreams. After her capture she’ll eventually have to escape, thus jump-starting the chase that comprises the bulk of this film.
This story, which is not that unoriginal, could have been turned into a conventional spy thriller. Like in Salt or The Bourne Identity, Hanna is a new millennium action hero, a robotic super soldier with unexpected skills brainwashed to fight and be a superhuman fighting machine. Sure, it's fun to see a 16-year-old girl do hand-to-hand combat with men twice her size and win, but as the film moves along we become engaged in her desires to fit in with regular life.
Mike Tothill’s editing might be the star of the show here. As Wright's editor on all the aforementioned prestige films, he too is inspired to change the cinematic paradigm. Almost everything is cut to project a strange hallucinatory effect. There’s a staccato rhythm in time with The Chemical Brothers superb and bouncing electronic score, which always keeps us stimulated. Wright moves his camera with great speed trying to keep up with Tothill's pace.
In the middle of the action Hanna meets up with a middle-class family on vacation in their camper. When she tries to integrate into the regular family, it turns into a bizarro world of sorts, like something out of a Terry Gilliam film.
The third act lets us down, unfortunately, when Wright and Tothill seem to run out of steam. Wright relies on a tired old Grimm’s fairytale allegory placing us in an amusement park filled with surreal Lewis Carrol/Grimm’s imagery. The final revelations and resolutions settle into a conventionality, which was so poisonous to Wright at the beginning. It's a shame this film doesn’t go out as high as we came into it, but it’s nevertheless one of the surprises of the year, and an exercise for all filmmakers languishing in a similar cinematic funk as Wright’s to explore.
Hanna is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.