Hanna is the latest film from director Joe Wright, best known for his literary adaptations Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. It’s another departure for Wright, who seems determined to prove he can master more than one genre (after misfiring with 2008’s The Soloist). This time around he attempts an intelligent action-thriller in the vein of Leon: The Professional and The Bourne Identity.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Hanna, a 16-year-old girl raised in the remote forests of Finland by her former CIA operative father Erik (Eric Bana) to be a self-sufficient killing machine. She has mastered several languages, memorised an entire encyclopedia and can match her macho father in self-defense and hunting. Grimm’s Fairy Tales is her only source of escapism (which provides a nice subtext to the film). Hanna decides she is ready to finally experience the real world, but Erik fears for her safety. The two separate, agreeing to rendezvous in Berlin. Hanna is immediately captured on the orders of Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik’s former CIA handler who seems unreasonably obsessed with finding him for “national security” concerns. Marissa is cold, determined and ruthless; at turns the evil Queen to Hanna’s Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf to Hanna’s Little Red Riding Hood. But Hanna is no damsel in distress. She escapes her interrogation in a sudden burst of violence and embarks upon the first of many running sequences. Emerging from an underground complex, Hanna finds herself in the Moroccan desert. She is taken in by a British family on vacation, made up of a hippy mother (Olivia Williams), worrying father (Jason Flemyng), precocious teenage daughter (Jessica Barden) and young son. Hanna has not met other people before, so how she observes and reacts to them is fascinating.
Not content to set the thrills aside for long, Wright has two impressive set pieces in store. The first has Erik followed from street-level to an underground subway where he takes on four men in an intense one-take fight sequence. The second has Hanna pursued by Marissa’s henchmen (including an eccentric Tom Hollander) in the midst of shipping containers, some of which are moving. Both are expertly choreographed action sequences.
It’s during these action scenes we are reminded that Hanna‘s soundtrack is by The Chemical Brothers. Their electronic contribution is suitably pulsing and undeniably cool, but it can also be quite distracting. During Hanna’s first major running sequence it almost feels as if we’ve stumbled into a music video as their beats swamp the cinema. Employing mainstream artists for soundtracks has become common place and The Chemical Brothers are a good fit for high-octane thrills, but they occasionally falter with the more atmospheric material which can sound slightly boring.
Joe Wright and screenwriters Seth Lockhead and David Farr owe a debt to many assassin action-thrillers of the past. Hanna often feels like a patchwork of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional, with Bourne style and fairy-tale ambitions, but it’s a highly entertaining one. Saoirse Ronan may be the next Cate Blanchett, and both give excellent performances here. Wright has successfully proven with Hanna that he can master the intellectual action-thriller genre, even if he hasn’t delivered the most original entry. If he’s smart, he’ll continue to cast his incredibly talented young lead over and over again.
Hanna is out now. Check out the trailer below.