Saoirse Ronan plays 16-year-old assassin Hanna Heller. (Photo: Alex Baily, ©2011 Focus Features
It’s always a great joy to be surprised by a director you had previously written off as a dullard. Joe Wright’s first three movies (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist) were supremely boring and mannered. Luckily, Joe Wright had a moment of clarity or an early midlife crisis and thought: “Wait a minute, I’m only 38; I don’t only have to make movies with string quartet soundtracks!” And he went out and made Hanna.
Unlike his first few movies, Hanna doesn’t deal with weighty issues—it’s an unapologetically lightweight chase film and it’s fantastic. Hanna is so entertaining that I left wondering why more mainstream “weekend movies” aren’t like this.
Hanna has a silly premise. Somewhere near the north pole, a somber and hirsute man (Eric Bana) trains his teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan, totally brilliant) to be a stone-cold badass. She’s fast and strong and can kill things in multiple ways. She can speak multiple languages and seems to have memorized an encyclopedia. But Hanna is growing restless. After all, she’s a teenager in the North Pole. Finally her father reveals a transistor with a switch: if she flips the switch, the world’s most high-strung CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) will come after her unless Hanna strikes first. Hanna flips the switch and we’re off. The rest of the film traipses continents and intersperses wry humor with brisk visuals.
Hanna employs a lot of familiar cinematic flourishes—slow-mo, collage, frame-movement, etc. I think these tricks are akin to things in pop music like echo, flange, and delay. They can be cheap crutches, but Wright reveals himself to be a master stylist in the vein of Jean-Jacques Beineix or a young Luc Besson. You can feel the giddy release of Wright making a fun film for a change.
But Hanna wouldn’t rise above its stylized sheen if it weren’t for its surprisingly energized performances. Saoirse Ronan is proving herself to be the heir apparent to Jodie Foster—she’s an exceptionally precocious child actor who, with each performance, seems primed for adulthood. Despite Hanna’s superhero abilities, she is a real character, and Ronan balances her abilities with her naiveté beautifully. Then there’s Cate Blanchett. Blanchett, one of the world’s treasures, is having a ball here. Like Tilda Swinton’s brilliant turn in Michael Clayton, Blanchett relishes playing a power-broker wound to near psychosis.
Movies like Hanna remind you how fun and diverting a night at the movies can be. A-
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