Movie Review: Hanna

By Matthew Huntley

April 19, 2011

Those pillows were totally asking for it.

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If Hanna had devoted as much attention to its story as it did its style, it might have been something special. As it stands, it’s a slick action movie with a paper thin plot that left me feeling both excited and empty at the same time. Like Kill Bill: Vol. 1, it would benefit greatly from a sequel, in which the substance gets revealed in the second chapter. That would also give the first one more purpose.

I enjoyed the picture for what it was, and by that, I mean as a hyperkinetic chase movie with lots of running, dodging, hand to hand combat and loud, discrete sound effects that let us know when bones have been broken and necks have been snapped. It’s exciting on that level, and the soundtrack, with music by The Chemical Brothers, is punchy and rhythmic, heightening the sense of urgency and tension. If there’s one thing this movie has, it’s energy.

But after a while, it became clear the movie’s energy was the only thing it had going for it. Whenever it came time for the story or characters to develop, the music would start and it would cut to another chase sequence. It’s as if the filmmakers had no confidence in the narrative or they just assumed all we wanted to see was action. Did they know the potential of the story they had?

About the story…Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl living with her father, Erik (Eric Bana), somewhere near the Arctic Circle. For her entire life, Hanna has lived in isolation with Erik and he’s trained her to be a lethal weapon of sorts. She hunts, fights, runs, speaks a plethora of different languages and even senses when people sneak up on her in her sleep. Oh, and she can shoot an arrow at high speed without needing a bow. Impressive, I know.


For reasons that Hanna doesn’t fully realize, Erik has been training her for a mission, which is to assassinate a CIA agent named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Erik is a rogue agent himself wanted by Marissa. When Hanna tells Erik she’s ready to carry out her assignment, he shows her a transmitter. By flipping the switch, Marissa and the CIA will know her exact location instantly. It’s up to Hanna to flip it, but for her, it’s not just about carrying out a mission, but leaving the snow-covered woods and seeing the modern world for the first time. After all, she’s a 16-year-old girl who’s never been exposed to things like friends or music. You have to imagine she’s getting pretty antsy and curious.

That is the type of substance I wish the movie had spent more time developing, but it essentially boils down to a game of cat and mouse between the multi-skilled Hanna and the determined Marissa. When Hanna is brought back to an underground CIA headquarters, she escapes, finds information that discloses her family secrets, and spends the rest of the movie thwarting people who are trying to catch her, including a band of bounty-hunter types led by the creepy Isaacs (Tom Hollander). Along the way, she befriends a vacationing family who takes her under their wing. The scenes with the father (Jason Flemyng), mother (Olivia Williams) and teenage daughter (Jessica Barden) are quite good and provide the movie its warmth and unexpected humor, as when Hanna reacts to a boy trying to kiss her for the first time.

Hanna is a good movie, but I can’t help but think it could have been great. It’s good because the chase and fight scenes, which make up the bulk of the runtime, are forceful and effective. They stand out and utilize unique locations. Such scenes have become so standard in movies that most of them can be written off as forgettable time-fillers. Few actually affect us any more, but the ones in Hanna do. They’re in our face and, with a solid R rating, go places tamer movies might not have tread. Joe Wright directs them unabashedly and mercilessly.

As far as acting, Ronan is superb as Hanna and completely convincing as a teenage girl with extraordinary skills. Although it’s likely she had a stunt double, she appears to be performing a lot of the action herself. But despite her tough exterior, she also makes Hanna sympathetic and sweet. She may possess superhuman abilities, but we see her as human and we come to care about her.

The movie holds itself back from greatness, though, because it’s mostly a one-trick pony. As good as the stunts and action sequences are, there’s not an equally strong narrative to go along with them. Of the plot and dramatic scenes we do get, they merely feel like breaks in between the more sensational stuff. I wanted the calmer, story-driven moments to last longer and to really hone in on Hanna’s character. The movie has set itself up for a lot of substantive material and if Hanna does well enough at the box office, hopefully we’ll see it payoff in a sequel.



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