Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Play time: 1
Director: Joe Wright
Screenwriters: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana
With Hanna, director Joe Wright steps away from the prestigious literary adaptations that rocketed him into the A-list to stylize the living hell out of some largely unremarkable Bourne-meets-The-X-Files pulp. And by Jove, it nearly works. Hanna is a painstakingly composed, gorgeously expressive tone poem that kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what sort of audio-visual havoc Wright — along with English dance-pop duo The Chemical Brothers, who wrote the pulsating musical score — would unleash in the next scene. It’s suspense of a different, more rarified kind, since the movie doesn’t really work as a conventional thriller; it’s too glaringly artificial to engage on that sort of gut level. Pride & Prejudice and Atonement may seem more high-brow, but Hanna turns out to be far more of an art film.
Pride was Wright’s feature debut, and it drew attention largely because his fluid and showy camerawork – he’s fond of long takes; elaborate tracking shots; bright colors – brought a loose, emotionally heightened feel to a genre associated with stuffy Masterpiece Theatre-type decorum. Atonement took much the same tack, deployed in ways that ranged from very interesting (e.g. Wright’s visual hints that all was not as it seemed) to borderline pointless (the look-ma-no-hands tracking shot across the beach). Interpreting Hanna’s genre trappings as a license to go nuts, Wright takes his tendency to show off even further here, to the point where the film sometimes begins to feel like a demo reel.
This somehow manages to be more exhilarating than annoying. The result of Wright’s directorial aggressiveness is that each of Hanna’s countless set pieces takes on a distinct personality that fits – sometimes too well – with whatever emotional or thematic note the screenplay is attempting to hit. The opening scenes, set in the snowy, isolated cabin where ex-CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana) and his young daughter Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) have lived alone for over a decade, are all aching, elegiac beauty, the foreground threatening to fade (and sometimes actually fading) into the snow-covered backdrops. When Hanna is captured and taken to a high-tech CIA holding cell – from which she promptly escapes – it’s circles, harsh geometry; the musical score starts whirring and grinding, and Wright fills an extended chase sequence with frenetic, rhythmic music video quick cuts reminiscent of Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run. Later, there’s a tense scene where Heller is stalked by a group of hit men into a tunnel, and Wright shoots the lead-up and eventual confrontation in a flashy single take – like his Atonement stunt, but with more dramatic purpose.
It’s so much auteurial chest-thumping, but the mastery is undeniable – this stuff is beautiful, lovingly constructed, and fun to watch. Indeed, Hanna’s surface pleasures are so alluring, it’s almost enough to forget that what’s beneath is kind of a mess – a jumble of fairly-tale allusions and spy movie tropes that are meant to coalesce, I gather, into something like a meditation on modernity. Our world is so harsh, so fucked up, that even a child put through survival boot camp (and given other, more sinister advantages I won’t reveal) isn’t equipped to handle it. There’s a narratively unnecessary scene where Cate Blanchett, playing a ruthless rogue CIA agent hunting for Hanna and her dad, uses a fancy electric toothbrush to mangle her gums into a bloody pulp, which rather hilariously sums up the film’s outlook.
All fine, but Hanna never really invests in either its story – which is desperately sparse – or its characters. There isn’t a lot to Hanna beyond Saoirse Ronan’s yearning gaze, and even less to her plight. By the climax, in which Blanchett emerges from the mouth of a giant Big Bad Wolf statue to menace her, the movie has more or less drained its emotional core, leaving Wright’s directorial chops in a vacuum. Which turns out to be enough to get us through.