Reviews

Sydney Film Festival 2011: 'Hanna'

This premise of wild girl unleashed on the world is not exactly original, but Hanna has an intriguing angle to it – it’s not often it’s a female in the lead role for this genre,


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

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.

4

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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

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

rating-image