Rarely do I come across the action movies that work as something else while working well as a well-made one. When I realize that I am watching such a movie, I get more interested in it than those bland, tasteless ones papered with crashes and bangs. “Hanna” is certainly not the first movie that juxtaposes the plot of standard action thriller movies with the fairy tale elements(Wayne Kramer’s “Running Scared”(2006) first comes to my mind), but this slick movie has the style and confidence to engage us into its storyline, and it is supported by the strong lead performance along with several good moments.
When we meet Hanna(Saoirse Ronana) at the opening sequence, we can quickly see that she is not a normal 16-year-old girl at all. In some cold winter field covered with snow in Finland, she hunts a big deer for meat for herself with her bow, and then, after killing a deer, she is ambushed from behind and, and starts a fast, tough fight with the man who holds her at a gunpoint. It turns out the man is her father Eric(Eric Bana), and, like her hunt, the fight is the part of her daily training.
She has lived together with her father in the hut in the middle of the forest for a long time. Eric is an ex-CIA agent and he has trained her for being an efficient killer. Along with how to fight and kill, she has learned various foreign languages, and she memorizes almost everything from a big encyclopedia like a bright girl eager to impress her father. Father constantly tests his daughter; she shows him she is a good student.
She has been pretty much content with their lifestyle, but now she is more interested in the world outside than before. Eric knows that. He gives her choice with some transmitter device, which can be activated immediately when she turns the switch on. He warns her there will be no going back once she turns it on. Their enemies will instantly know where they are, so he will have to leave, and, for meeting him again at the certain place, she will have to go through the real world she has never encountered before.
Like any fairy tale heroines, she chooses the perilous path. After the transmitter is turned on, CIA quickly detects where they are, and that is how the CIA agent Marissa(Cate Blanchett) comes into the plot as the wicked witch. Despite some reservations from above, Marissa is very insistent about eliminating Eric and Hanna, and she is willing to accomplish her personal mission by any means necessary. As soon as Eric departed from the hut, Hanna is captured and then locked in CIA secret base under Marissa’s direction. She escapes, and, pursued by Marissa and her henchmen, she now faces the real test as a trained killer after years of intensive home education.
The director Joe Wright is mainly known for excellent literature adaptations like “Pride and Prejudice”(2005) and “Atonement”(2007), which are far different from this movie. As shown in his previous works, Wright is a skillful director with the good visual sense of space and atmosphere, and he makes a solid action movie this time. Each of various locations in the film are presented on the screen with distinctive feelings as the chapters of Hanna’s journey, and, in the end, the story arrives in some shabby amusement park amusingly mixed with fairy tale elements including big bad wolf.
The actions scenes are fewer and smaller than expected, but they are not only effective but also visually interesting. Hanna’s escape sequence is precisely handled with efficiency in the vast structure while propelled by the Chemical Brothers’ aggressive electronic score. There is the underground fight sequence stylishly shown in smooth a long take shot, and then there is a captivating chase sequence where the character runs between the trailers and then jumps over them. Wright clearly knows how to make good action scenes – be real and steady as much as possible.
And the story and the characters come first in his film. The screenplay written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr is shaky at times, but it is serious about the characters with some sense of humor. Although she has been trained as a killing machine, Hanna is still an innocent child in the alien world. She has surely learned about the world outside a lot, but this is her first field trip, and she approaches the world and people with curiosity and detachment that remind me of artificial intelligence.
The movie goes a little deeper into her through her encounter with some British family on vacation, who find Hanna a little strange but likable enough to be accepted as a fellow traveler. Although being a stranger to them at first, she soon gets close to them. She has the chance to observe the normal family life she has never experienced. She finds some respite while being with them, but they also reminds her that she is an outsider different from others. She can be a nice pretty girl, but her instinct is always waiting to jump out from her inside; it does not matter whether it is ignited by Marissa’s henchmen or a naive approach. I’m sure she will get a lot of advices from the Bride in “Kill Bill”.
As the lead, Saoirse Ronan handles the challenging role quite convincingly, confirming her exceptional talent previously shown in “Atonement”. On the opposite, Cate Blanchett is equally effective as her cold, rigid foe. In objective view, she could have saved her from lots of troubles(and also could have saved some tax money from American citizens considering how much resources she spends) if she had just ignored Eric and Hanna, but never mind. Blanchett is single-mindedly ruthless to everyone including her gums, and you can’t question about that. The special mention goes to Tom Hollander as one of Marissa’s henchmen; he flaunts with cheerful creepiness worthy of Brothers Grimm tales.
I have no idea whether it is karmic or not, but “Hanna” is released in South Korea in the same weekend when “Kick-Ass”(2010) was released in last year. The comparison is inevitable for both have a young heroine trained to be a ruthless killer by her father. I respect that “Kick-Ass” has the style to deal with its subject, but its irreverent, unstable mix of silliness and extreme violence bothered me. That is why I prefer “Hanna” more; it is serious enough for its disturbing aspect while handled with enough style. And it works as sort of a coming-of-age story. As some character in the movie says, kids grow up, don’t they?