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Hanna – film review

December 11, 2014


Unique blend of kick-ass action and modern day fairy tale results in something refreshing and new we haven’t seen before.

hanna 2011

A US-German co-production. Directed by Joe Wright. Screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, story by Seth Lochhead. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng and Cate Blanchett. Year of release: 2011. Running time: 111 minutes.

In a secluded fairy tale cabin nestled in the woods near the Arctic Circle, sixteen year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) hides out with her ex CIA operative father Erik (Eric Bana) who has trained his daughter in survival skills and martial arts. With Hanna’s training as a super assassin complete, she and her father must now go their separate ways, in order for Hanna to fulfil her purpose in exacting revenge on the CIA operative (Kate Blanchett) who murdered her mother.

First up, it must be said, thanks to the lensing by German cinematographer Alwin Küchler (Divergent, Sunshine) this is one gorgeous-looking film. Directors Danny Boyle (Sunshine) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity) were reportedly attached to the project prior to the hiring of Joe Wright, but it’s difficult to imagine whether or not the resulting movie under the helm of either of these visionary directors would’ve ended up nearly as breathtakingly beautiful as it does here.

The talented young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan as Hanna embodies the perfect balance of intelligence, naivety and kick-ass fighting skills. Although she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the larger world (facts and figures taught to her by her father) Hanna has virtually zero practical experience of how the outside world actually operates; having spent her entire young life isolated in the snowy wilderness. When she embarks on her continent-spanning quest, the film quickly shifts into the classic fish-out-of-water, innocent abroard scenario; creating many endearing instances of levity as Hanna is faced with everyday situations and technologies which are commonplace to the viewer – but seem utterly new and alien to her. An amusing example of this is a scene in a Moroccan hotel room, where Hanna’s curiosity of various home appliances; a television set, ceiling fan, and electric water jug – ends with all these things going terrifyingly berserk as she is unable to figure out how to switch any of them off.

Affable Australian actor Eric Bana (here sporting a convincing German accent) gives a nicely understated performance as Hanna’s father and mentor. While fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett is suitably menacing as Marissa, the CIA operative who is responsible for the death of Hanna’s mother; determined to capture the young assassin at any cost. And British thesp Tom Hollander as über-creepy strip club owner cum CIA henchman Isaacs (who whistles while he works) is also disturbingly sinister.

British director Joe Wright (best known for less vigorous romantic fare as Atonement and Pride & Prejudice) seems at first an odd choice to helm such an action-centric film, but demonstrates here he more than has the action chops to take on such material. There are many memorable, nicely-staged action sequences incorporated throughout the film; beginning with a special ops night-vision assault on Hanna’s snow-bound cottage. And the fight choreography in particular (supervised by veteran stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada) is spectacular in its execution – most notably during     a standout dockside sequence, set amid a maze of stacked shipping containers – where Hanna is set upon by Isaac and his skinhead henchmen. Likewise, a beautifully choreographed four minute single-shot steadicam sequence, during which Bana single-handedly takes out a bunch of assassins in hand-to-hand combat in a Berlin subway is simply astounding in its staging and execution. Interestingly, Wright has cited surrealist David Lynch as an inspiration for his handling of this particular material; with Marissa’s pursuit of Hanna mirroring the pursuit of Laura Dern in Wild at Heart by her mother Diane Ladd. There is also a callback to a scene in Wild at Heart (where a crazed Diane Ladd paints her entire face red with lipstick) – where Marissa obessively brushes her teeth with an electric toothbrush until her gums bleed. While the dwarf in Isaac’s strip club is clearly another quirky Lynchian flourish, there is ultimately little stylistic comparison between the two – other than perhaps in the way Lynch incorporated fairy tale references to The Wizard of Oz in Wild at Heart.

And speaking of fairy tale references; there are numerous allusions to fairy tales woven throughout Hanna, giving the film its own unique flavor. Hanna herself is the classic fairy tale heroine; an innocent forced to leave the sanctuary of her childhood in order to face the adult perils of the outside world. While Erik Bana’s character is very much (not least in appearance) the benign ‘woodsman’ character from classic folk lore. And Cate Blanchett’s Marissa is indeed the embodiment of the wicked witch or wicked queen from countless fairy tales.

Although the pacing tends to sag a little in the middle, when Hanna hitches a ride     with a young British family holidaying in Morocco and Spain, the tempo does pick up once she gets to Berlin for the final showdown with Marissa. And while the driving synth score by UK dance duo The Chemical Brothers can be a little distracting at times, it does well in sustaining momentum during the various action sequences. Minor pacing issues aside, Joe Wright’s Hanna is still hugely entertaining. And, as there has never been (tonally at least, with its fairy tale allusions) anything quite like this film; it is this aspect (along with its kinetic action sequences) which definitely makes it well worth a watch.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

  1. Nice review. 🙂 I only watched this for the Chemical Brothers score but ended up thinking it was pretty good! Felt quite original, which is more than can be said of most movies. I actually looked at your site yesterday to see if you’d ever reviewed the movie I reviewed today – Phantom of the Paradise? I couldn’t think of many people here who may have seen it other than you?? Have you? I’ve mostly just had “WTF” types of replies from people. Lol 🙂


    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey thanks! Yeah, I haven’t seen PHANTOM since I was nine or ten at the drive-in with my parents (I was supposed to be asleep in the back). All I remember is some guy getting his face mashed in a record press? I am keen for a re-watch though – and I’ll be sure to check out your review! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha – Yeah, his face getting mashed in the record press was one of the best bits. I remember my parents scarring me for life with the Raiders of the Lost Ark face melting scene when they brought me along to the drive-in… (But I later thought it was awesome). 🙂


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