Nothing is more frustrating than a movie that doesn’t understand where its real power lies. Instead of playing to said positives, it dribbles around on insignificant concepts that earn the final effort nothing. In the case of the new “high octane action thriller” (to quote the PR) Hanna, we’ve got a really novel take on the ages-old fairytale – a father hiding his special child away from the wicked queen, the evil villainess stopping at nothing to get what she wants. The employment of equally cruel minions. The kid finally figuring out how to destroy the unholy presence that’s after her. Heck, the ending even takes place in an abandoned amusement park with a Brothers Grimm theme. This is the movie Red Riding Hood wanted to be before getting lost in the ‘twilight.’ Unfortunately, director Joe Wright can’t remove himself from the standard shakycam fight scenes to discover his story’s true strength.
When we first meet Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) she is living a hermit like existence in the middle of the Norwegian wilderness. Her father (Eric Bana) teaches her the ways of hunting and hand to hand combat. He also schools her in science, language, and weaponry. By the time she is a teen, Hanna is a lean, mean espionage machine, and restless as Hell. With Dad’s reluctant permission, she activates a homing beacon which lets CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) track her down. Seems our young heroine is actually the result of a weird experiment to make people smarter, stronger, and more deadly. Now, it’s a cat and mouse game across several continents as Hanna runs from Marissa, Dad tries to regain control, and a random British family discovers more and more ways to be both cinematically staid and yet narratively vital.
In light of the glowing reviews which offers this film up as the second coming of re-imagined action (sorry, that tag was already taken by Wanted, and it’s not giving it back anytime soon) Hanna has a lot going for it. It’s a weird post-modern fable where our lead is like Rapunzel and Snow White except with a handy capability of killing her potential nemesis. The training material at the beginning has a nice rustic feel, especially with Bana playing Unibomber Yoda. By the time the electronic beacon is activated and Blanchett is poking at her gum-line with blood inducing anxiety, we are ready for the promised wild ride. But then Hanna decides to hem and haw. It takes our supposedly capable killbot and puts her in Morocco, forced to fend for herself in a world rife with such illogically foreign concepts as television, radios, and fluorescent lights. It makes no sense to see Hanna having a fit over these things. Wouldn’t a Daddy who delights in drilling his pupil with various version of facts and foreign lexicons have explained things like, say, an electric kettle?
Well, Hanna never stops to address such inconsistencies. Instead, it’s entire second act meanders around like Karl Pilkington on a cook’s tour. The biggest mistake the script by David Farr and Seth Lochhead makes is avoiding the possibilities in a contemporized “Once Upon a Time” to go traveling with a family of English idiots. From the matriarch who believes in parenting concepts so lenient and New Age that California soccer moms are jealous to a father who defends a damn good thrashing, we are stuck in the middle of a bad BBC dramedy. Then the cheeky, sexed up little slag of a daughter shows up to lower the IQ level even more. She’s fascinated by Hanna…and pop culture…and pop idols…and pop media…and she never shuts up about it. Even when she manages to take our lost little girl into the caravan with them, Sophie just can’t cooperate. She has to ruin every scene with her thick tongued drone, turning a good 40 minutes of movie run time into the worst holiday video ever!
Luckily, the last act of the movie almost saves things. The use of the abandoned park is a stroke of symbolic genius, and the events that take place there illustrate just how strong something like Hanna could have been. When it plays by the rules of the genre it is riffing on, the movie makes a strong case for itself. When it decides to dive into the angst of a sheltered adolescent teen and her UK pals, it’s pathetic. Even the introduction of the excellent Tom Hollander as the ultimate slimeball Eurotrash assassin can’t right the course. Instead, he finds his wicked ways wasted in chase scenes that don’t pay off and a foot chase through a shipyard that ends without real rhyme or reason. By the time he arrives at the Grimms shindig to add to the mayhem, we’ve forgotten why Blanchett’s character hired him in the first place (maybe because he has access to all the jack-boot wearing skinheads in the EU?).
At least Joe Wright doesn’t completely disappoint behind the lens. His aggressive style suggests one too many viewings of countryman Danny Boyle’s catalog, but at least he’s cribbing the best bits. There’s none of the showboating sentimentality from The Soloist on display, and he even finds a way to make the most of his Atonement trademarked long tack (Bana has a subway rumble that appears to be shot in one continuous circling motion). In this case, he is stifled by the script. Hanna could have gone anywhere – literally. This is one little princess who could quickly process any information and size up the situation within a couple of conversations. Better yet, it could have built on the entire “Happily Ever After” dynamic and delivered the kind of undeniable novelty it pretends to be.
In 1998, Tom Tykwer, used a video game POV to turn the story of a strong independent German gal defending her boyfriend into the multifaceted masterwork Run, Lola, Run. Last year, critics were up in arms over Kick-Ass, and specifically the character of Hit-Girl, who was everything Hanna is (and isn’t) plus the gratuitous dropping of the c-bomb. Apparently, approach is everything. For many, this movie will be one great big tease. Those who sync in will celebrate its audacity. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth – as well as the reason the film ultimately unravels.