Deep in the Scandinavian wilderness, a child huntress, barely in her teens, with white hair and icy blue eye, has stolen up on a magnificent elk, and with the whip-thud of an arrow she dispenses with her quarry. This is no child, this is a killer… this is Hanna. This opening seems to tell us everything we need to know about Joe Wright’s Hanna: the story of a teenage girl (Ronan) trained from birth to be the perfect assassin. But as she stands over the elk, pistol in hand, and pulls the trigger, the title of the film explodes across the screen in vibrant red and white, reminiscent of Michael Haneke or some angry German punk video. Joe Wright isn’t going to stick to the rules here; he is taking us somewhere new, and we are strapped in ready to go.
Hanna’s father, Erik (Bana), is a rogue CIA agent who has escaped to this remote wilderness, and dedicated his remaining days to training his daughter in the art of self-defence. Now that she has come of age, he decides to let her out into the world to meet her fate – a twisted CIA operative, Marissa (Blanchett), who will stop at nothing to kill Hanna. Hanna and Erik break up and agree to meet in Berlin once Marissa has been killed, but this difficult and lonely journey takes Hanna halfway across the world, through hidden desert bunkers, strange gypsy countryside, and looming industrial strongholds.
Being critical, the story is somewhat obvious and many of the occurrences and plot points are too convenient. But this film isn’t about jaw-dropping twists or eerie realism; it is about taking the classical elements of an action thriller (escaping from bunkers, hiding from German double-agents, escaping on ferries, etc) and blending them with an exciting and adventurous vision. Joe Wright mixes elements of fantasy, hyper-realism, and music video to create the sort of action thriller that Danny Boyle would be proud of: with long, choreographed chase sequences breaking up striking, languid road trip settings.
Physically Hanna is superhuman, and when called to do so she is capable of extraordinary strength and agility. But mentally she is a child, threatened by the size of the world, and the sheer number of people and distractions in it. Nobody could have played this role but Saoirse Ronan. She is a captivating cross between Catherine Deneuve and some bewitching Gaelic Goddess. She is effortlessly unaware of the camera’s obscuring glare, and always seems to float above the earthly machinations of “acting”. She is unreachable, and utterly compelling.
This film channels the haunting fantasy of the Brothers Grimm, with the hazy, colourful power of Lolita, and the thumping action of a Bourne film. It is not an original story, and in other hands it might have appeared trashy; but Joe Wright is in great shape, and a string of successes has given him the conf idence to break out into a new and energetic style. His vision, along with Ronan’s near flawless performance, elevate this interesting story into one of the must-see films of 2011.