Reviews

'Hanna': A Perfect Soldier

Along with makeup and sisterly advice, the regular teenager Sophie provides the trained killer Hanna with a glimpse of what she's missed.


Hanna

Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden, Michelle Dockery
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Focus Features
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-08 (General release)
UK date: 2011-05-06 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Hanna starts in snow. At first sky and horizon blur in a bright whiteness that is also, oddly and promisingly, somber. The surface you're seeing is actually water, and on it floats a swan.

The sight is exotic, maybe poetic, and too obviously metaphorical. But it's subtle compared with what follows, as this swan becomes one of many signs of the girl you're about to see, the whiter than white Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a youthful 16-year-old with eyebrows so light they're barely legible on her perfectly -- and I mean, perfectly -- pale face. But Hanna's not so pure as her driven surroundings: she's a trained killer, as well as an expert in multiple languages, weapons systems, and body parts. You won't be surprised that she's learned all this from her dad, Erik (Eric Bana). She also copies his vaguely Germanic accent and rustic style of dress -- animal skins and hoods and laces to defend against the elements.

That doesn’t mean she's wholly defended against the world beyond her Finnish winter wonderland. But she'll head out anyway, because that's the logic of a film like this, a film preposterous and careless and wholly in love with itself.

Or maybe, in love with Hanna as she represents that self -- by turns sweetly childlike and stunningly brutal. Like Mindy in Kick-Ass, Max in Dark Angel, and Nikita in La Femme, she's a girl designed and/or tutored by unhappy people for lurid purposes, like military brilliance or heartless efficiency. Her father is noticeably unhinged, repeatedly assaulting her in order to assure himself she's ready to leave home. He's got his reason and it’s the usual one -- revenge.

Targeting his former CIA handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik doesn't quite take the long view -- like, what trauma he's inflicted on Hanna and how this might, you know, shape her going forward. But if it's disturbing that Erik is using his kid for his own violent ends, it's not exactly news either. Yes, it would have been nice if he'd prepped Hanna more extensively, say, let her in on a secret called electricity or how the TV isn't actually sending helicopters to get her... though such instruction would obviate the scenes where she repeatedly turns a light switch on and off, enchanted by the effects, or has to sort out differences between a war movie on TV and the overhead fan she encounters in Morocco. As the camera careens to show her amazement, you're asked to see her as an innocent, a Bourne-like product of a corrupt system.

Hanna's abject naïveté is underlined by her affection for Grimm's fairytales (her fingers trace the drawings in her favorite book) as well as her reaction to a first kiss: the hapless Spanish boy who proffers it ends up splat on the ground with his neck nearly broken. "Should I let him go?" Hanna wonders out loud. "As opposed to what?" answers her new BFF, Sophie (Jessica Barden). As Hanna crouches over her almost prey, Sophie stands in for the regular teenager, interested in tight jeans and pop music and blue eye shadow.

When Sophie's parents agree to bring Hanna along in their camper as they gallivant through Northern Africa, they can have no idea of the monstrosity they've invited into their vacation. Neither can Hanna, though you know Marissa has set her own attack plan in motion when she hires Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a gaudy outlier who prefers intersexed partners and also to "do things," Marissa says, "my agency won't let me do." He and his skinheady minions track down Hanna and torture Sophie's family. The villains trap Hanna and her new friends in a cargo lot, so she can run between and atop boxcars, a beautifully art-directed and athletic sequence that exemplifies the movie's inclination to look terrific and go nowhere.

Along with makeup and sisterly advice, Sophie also provides Hanna with a glimpse of what she's missed. Hanna tells Sophie some things she shouldn't (like, she's headed to Berlin to meet up with her dad, a confession that moves the cumbersome plot), but she also shares with her some moments of girly bliss -- scoping out the Spanish boys, riding on the backs of their bikes, making fun of Sophie's folks, Hanna is charmed. Their intimacy is lovely and a little lascivious (their kiss is partly experimental, partly portentous, and rendered in a series of oppressive close-ups), but the movie doesn’t have much time for girls as such. It reverts almost instantly to its focus on Hanna as the object of fanboys' lust, lethal and lithe and pounding her opponents under a score by the Chemical Brothers.

Hanna's designed to be this way, which leaves her blameless. Not so Marissa, whose causal background is mostly unknown. What you do know is that she's determined to get Erik and Hanna, that she's obsessive (she cleans her teeth until her gums bleed), and that she has no children of her own. When one of her victims makes note of this last, the scene cuts to Marissa behind her big monogrammed handgun, aimed directly at the offender and you too, by way of the point-of-view camera.

She's a barren, hard-hearted bitch, all right. But, per her too obviously metaphorical role in this fairy tale, Marissa's also Hanna's very, very bad mom. By the time they face off in an abandoned Grimm's theme park, they're surrounded by swan boats and plaster toadstools (as well as a graveyard of broken dinosaurs, though it's not clear what these have to do with the park's theme). Hanna doesn’t even blink when Marissa emerges from a tunnel shaped like a wolf's mouth, framed by giant vagina-dentata-ed teeth. But you might sigh.

3

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image