Sydney Film Festival 2011: ‘Hanna’

Hannais a frenetic action film set to a pulsating soundtrack of bullets and the Chemical Brothers’ buzzsaw industrial music. It is loaded with good ideas and intriguing subplot tangents, all of which fall flat. Even the pairing of Saoirse Ronan and CateBlanchett, two actresses almost always worth watching, fails to amount to much. Director Joe Wright, who made such a great film with Atonement, here very badly botches the job. He has no feel for action, with no rush of danger or urgency to the plot, and an unnecessarily hyperactive style that seems to hinge on how many shots he can fit into one of his flashy thrill sequences; it’s irritating rather than exciting.

Hanna has been raised all her life in a snowy forest near the North Pole. Ronan is almost unrecognizable in this role, with shockingly white hair and eyebrows and shiny skin; only her blue eyes give her away. Her dad, Eric Bana, has mercilessly trained her to become a fighting agent and polyglot; “think on your feet, even when you’re sleeping” is one of the mantras they repeat to each other. This premise of wild girl unleashed on the world is not exactly original, but it has an intriguing angle to it – it’s not often it’s a female in the lead role for this genre, and almost never (as far as I can recall) one as young as Ronan.

Bana informs her one day that he has kept buried in the snow a transponder which, if switched on, will alert the powers that be to their whereabouts. He tells his daughter that, whenever she is ‘ready’, she may flick the switch, they will both go on the run, and meet up later in Berlin. This justification, which after all is the reason for everything that comes after in the film, will strike many as ludicrous: it’s only the first of many times Hannafails to connect the dots. Why papa wouldn’t have thrown this away years ago is a mystery, as is the idea they would recklessly endanger both their lives to hunt down CateBlanchett’s slippery alligator of a character Marissa Wiegler. But wait, how do they know she’ll even be interested in them after all these years? It is revealed in a flashback that the last time she encountered Hanna was when she was a baby.

From here the film jumps to Morocco, where Ronan is locked up in a high-security base beneath the desert. Why a military team would take her to Morocco of all places remains a mystery, but of course she escapes and is lucky enough to hitch a ride with a family that just happens to be driving through the desert at the same time. You can often accuse thrillers of inserting unnecessary characters who exist only to further plot; well, this is a whole family to fill that purpose. They never rise above the caricature level and spout pointless dialogue like how lipstick is meant to evoke the color of the labia. For a while, we get the feeling the film is trying to combine a hard-boiled thriller with screwball comedy.

Hanna, meanwhile, has her innocent eyes opened to the modern world for the first time, and impresses a hotel owner with her command of Arabic. The splattering of foreign languages here is a highlight; it has a sort of InglouriousBasterdsvibe about it, with Blanchett twisting her tongue around German and Tom Hollander, playing another bad guy,having some funstrutting around speaking French. Amongst the new things Hanna experiences are, suspiciously, electricity and television. Would her father, in training her to blend in with a back-story and multi-lingual fluency as the ultimate assassin, really have neglected to explain to her these inventions? She makes friends with the family’s daughter, played by Jessica Barden, and perhaps begins to wonder if this assassin thing is really worth it.

But it’s too late for that; Blanchett has her goons out in force after her, including a sadistic German bar owner she used to work with – though if this is really the best US special forces can do, it’s a wonder they manage to find Hanna in the first place. At one stage they follow the car she’s stowed away in until it reaches a depot full of containers, as if they were just waiting for the right place to stage an action sequence before striking. They’re chasing daddy, too, and Bana gets a martial arts scene in a subway station that is far too much like The Matrixfor its own good. It’s never even clear what exactly Blanchett wants to do with Hanna, whether it’s kill her off or adapt her genetically-enhanced DNA for her own good; this only compounds the failure of the story to clearly define its own characters and address some gaping credibility gaps.

The film moves locations from Morocco to Spain and then Germany (how did they manage to get there without going through France?) and the location work is blandness personified. There’s no sense of place in this film, essential for an international thriller, and all the locales are lacking in verisimilitude. It’s like what commercial Hollywood at its most crass imagines other countries to be like, a samey montage with no real difference between one place and the next. Except that Joe Wright is English! It just doesn’t make any sense. Nor does Hanna. It’s kind of cool to see Ronan kick ass, but she’s yet to find a really great role that truly capitalizes on her talent. Not to worry. She has her whole career ahead of her. As for this, most involved would be wise to forget it.

RATING 4 / 10
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