Worth A Look: 51.43%
Pretty Bad: 8.57%
Total Crap: 5.71%
3 reviews, 17 user ratings
by Peter Sobczynski
It was Jean-Luc Godard, I believe, who once made a statement to the effect that the best way to properly critique a movie was to make another one. (These may sound like the words of a pompous blowhard but bear in mind that in the years before he became one of the world’s most provocative and controversial filmmakers, he himself worked as a film
critic.) I found myself reflecting upon that statement as I was watching the new action thriller “Hanna” only a mere few hours after having endured an extended trek through the cinematic wasteland known as “Sucker Punch,” a name that I suspect now reverberates throughout the halls of Warner Brothers with the same kind of fear and dread that the
mention of the boogey man once inspired in first-grade classrooms. Both films are outrageous and violent fantasies centered on young girls (okay, the chief heroine in “Sucker Punch” was briefly referenced as being 20 but she was dressed and made up to look much younger and was known throughout only as Baby Doll) with seemingly superhuman fighting and survival skills who single-handedly lay waste to countless opponents while trying against all odds to achieve her chief objective and both films are, no matter how you slice or parse things, inherently ridiculous from start to finish. The difference is that while “Sucker Punch” was clearly willing to sacrifice even the most tenuous bit of
comic-book logic in order to provide viewers with a non-stop sensation machine that was so coldly stylized that even the geekiest audience members were left wishing for something a little more substantial, “Hanna” pulls off the considerably trickier feat of telling a story that takes itself relatively seriously while still recognizing its inherent goofiness thanks to a combination of wild action set-pieces and surprisingly deft contributions from a cast and crew that one would not normally associate with a project of this sort. The results are a little uneven at time but when it works, which is a good deal more often than one might expect, it successfully combines artistic pretensions and giddy action thrills in ways that will remind viewers favorably of
similar genre mash-ups like “La Femme Nikita” and the Jason Bourne films.Our heroine is a 16-year-old girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and when we first encounter her on the frozen lands of Finland, she gently regards a moose that has come into her line of sight before coolly dispatching with an arrow, pausing only to reflect that she just missed a direct hit to the heart. As we gradually begin to learn, Hanna has been raised in this remote area since infancy by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA agent who went off the grid years ago in order to avoid being hunted down and killed for what he knows about past missions and the curious circumstances of Hanna's existence. Since then, he has been training her around-the-clock to become the perfect killing machine in order to defend herself against the enemies who are still out to get them.
"Hanna Spearitt, Stabitt, Shootitt And Strangleitt"
Feeling ready at last to confront her enemies once and for all, specifically (Cate Blanchett), a high-ranking spook who knows even more about Hanna than her father and who will do anything to clean up those two particular loose ends in the messiest manner possible, Hanna deliberately trips a signal that will lead them to her while her father heads off on his own with the plan of the two of them reuniting in Berlin when everything is finished. Hanna is brought in to an underground facility where she calmly and unhesitatingly kills everybody in her path while making her escape to the surface in what turns out to be the Moroccan desert. With the occasionally unwitting help of Sophie (Jessica Arden) a spunky British girl who is on holiday with her family (including Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng as the parents) and
who may well be the first person her age that she has encountered in her life, Hanna makes her way to Berlin with Marissa and her brutal goons in hot pursuit and in between the occasional bloodbath, she begins to experience the mysteries of a quiet, normal life that have been previously denied her, though woe to the boy who unwittingly attempts to
sneak a kiss with potentially tragic results.
On the surface, "Hanna" sounds like another ridiculously conceived action extravaganza of the kind usually directed by a flashy cinematic hotshot looking to earn his filmmaking bones and therefore, it may come as a shock to some to discover that it was actually directed by Joe Wright, the British director whose previous efforts have included such tony Oscar bait as the Keira Knightley version of "Pride and
Prejudice" and "Atonement," in which he directed Ronan to a Best
Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Oftentimes when a director known for stately and serious dramas decides to muck about a bit in a less artistically respectable genre like the action thriller, the results are often too self-conscious for their own good--the strain of trying to do something a little more frivolous tends to hang over the proceedings to such an oppressive degree that any actual sense of fun or excitement tends to get smothered in the process. Wright manages to deftly avoid these pitfalls throughout and while "Hanna" may lack the weight and resonance of something like "Atonement," it is by far the most sheerly entertaining work of his career. On the one hand, he got lucky in the sense that the screenplay by Seth Lochead and David Farr is a hell of lot more thoughtful and intelligent than the usual action junk in the
way that it takes care to make Hanna into a fully-developed character even though the same cannot be said about her. In fact, some of the film's most touching and hilarious moments come during her excursion with Sophie and her pleasantly daft family when she finally gets to see what a normal family unit looks like and gradually begins to recognize the enormity of what she has been robbed of by both Marissa and her goons and her otherwise well-meaning father. At the same time, Wright, who has previously shown a flair for big visual set-pieces in his previous efforts (including the instantly famous extended tour of the devastation of Dunkirk in "Atonement," a supposedly one-shot tour-de-force that I believe is still going on), brings a keen eye and ingenuity to his action scenes and they are among the most exciting to hit the screen in a while with two of them--one in which Hanna is being chased throughout a shipyard by various murderous goons and another apparently one-take extravaganza that follows her father from the streets into an underground terminal that suddenly fills up with bad guys needing to be
taken down--likely to go down as instantly classics among film buffs.
Under normal circumstances, the quality of the performances in action movies are rarely discussed unless they happen to be egregiously awful because to most observers, they are not nearly as important as the visceral thrills on display. "Hanna," on the other hand, is that rare bird of an action film where the performances are all surprisingly strong and effective and help deepen the impact of the story. Already
celebrated for her performances in such films as "Atonement" and "The Lovely Bones" (where she was won of the only people who escaped that disaster relatively unscathed), Saoirse Ronan turns in an astonishing performance as Hanna and transforms what could have been a one-dimensional caricature into a real and completely fleshed-out character whose improbable plausibility helps ground the story in reality
instead of letting it spin off into another garish comic book along the lines of "Kick-Ass" or "Sucker Punch." Although I haven't been a huge fan of the majority of Eric Bana's past performances--after his electrifying and fascinating turns in "Chopper" and "Hulk," he kind of turned into a slightly more expressive version of Gerard Butler--he is strong and sure as well and Cate Blanchett is clearly having a blast as the evil CIA spook torn between her admiration for Hanna and her abilities and her desperate need to destroy her in order to save her own neck. There are also a bunch of funny and interesting turns from the large supporting cast that come across as special little treats to complement the main course--the scenes involving the British family Hanna encounters, for example, are so funny and charming that I found myself wishing of a "Get Him to the Greek"-style spin-off that would focus entirely on them (only, you know, good).I do have a couple of small problems with "Hanna" here and there--the stuff involving her oddball biological origins is never adequately explained and while the violence on display is never overly repugnant, I must admit that I was surprised to discover afterwards that it somehow managed to get a PG-13 from the always-on-the-ball folks at the MPAA. However, these are minor problems at best and they are so thoroughly offset by all the things that do work ranging from the performances and direction to the beautiful cinematography by Alwin Kuchler and the trippy score from The Chemical Brothers that it hardly seems worth it to dwell on them for too long. For the most part, "Hanna" is a thrilling, exciting and strangely touching epic that is one of the
few cinematic high point of the year to date and one of the rare action movies that can be thoroughly enjoyed by those who love that particular genre and those who loathe it in equal measure.
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originally posted: 04/08/11 14:00:00