You may think that Joe Wright’s fourth feature film may be a tad too ambitious, clustering genres together like a self-conscious art collector decorating his living room, but you never mistake his cinematic daring. Hanna is, after all, light-years away from the tight corsets and heavy bosoms of literary adaptations Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, or even his socio-realist environs of Los Angeles in The Soloist, taking his visually affluent camera up to the Arctic wilderness, down to Africa and through Europe to tell the tale of the eponymous hit-girl, a home-schooled, 17-year old assassin who can effortlessly dispatch the entire CIA headquarters at a whim. Wright mashes up numerous genres at once – action movie, spy thriller, superhero origins story, coming-of-age yarn with a fairy-tale spin – resulting in a slightly absurd but skilfully shot and choreographed film that doesn’t insult our think-tanks, just as what many actioners do to its audience these days.
The revenge action-thriller has been done to death, but Wright makes Hanna feel and look refreshing. One thing it doesn’t try to do is editing overkill. Where most films of this breed flies past with zap-speed editing kinetics, Wright allows his sequences to breathe, all long takes and barely a cut in between Saoirse Ronan leaping over ship containers or Eric Bana eliminating a bunch of German thugs in a downtown Berlin underground. You may accuse Wright for showing off. But that doesn’t make him less capable behind the camera. If you haven’t seen the Dunkirk sequence in Atonement, then you barely have any idea what this man is capable of in the first place. He embeds his art house influences with a more commercial-savvy storytelling techniques, with nods to various action classics The Bourne Trilogy, Leon The Professional and even Kick-Ass (Hanna is practically a Scandinavian Hit-Girl with DNA issues, but less costume, less potty-mouth talk and more white-knuckled, raw pulp-fiction action figure). As soon as Hanna gets away from an arsenal of soldiers, she is soon located to Morocco with a family of happy campers that plays like a fish-out-of-water drama.
Ronan is superb. She gets to really show her talent, taking on a demanding role, both physically and emotionally. When she’s not coolly annihilating assassins with bare hands, she deals with emotional cracks on her surface like ice thawing as she is exposed to the real world. And there is real charm, a sort of lethal naivety in Ronan’s quick wit and deep eyes that keeps Hanna an intriguing portrait of innocence, albeit a rather twisted one. Eric Bana also excels as Hanna’s ‘papa’, and Cate Blanchett keeps stealing scenes as cold mega-bitch Marissa, CIA agent, obsessed in hunting down father-daughter duo. The final confrontation scene between Hanna and Marissa in the Grimm’s park is a telling one: it shows Marissa’s ambiguous affection for Hanna (her daughter perhaps?), and shows that Ronan can hold her own alongside a formidable actress like Blanchett.
Whilst sporadically absurd and often restrained, Hanna works well as a postmodern take on Brothers Grimm crossed with post-Cold War spy thriller. It’s smartly paced, impressively choreographed and directed by Wright, and anchored by a solid central performance by Ronan, who’s running ahead as best young actress of her time. Plus, it has Blanchett playing mega-bitch, too.