Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hanna / **** (PG-13)

Hanna: Saoirse Ronan
Marissa: Cate Blanchett
Erik: Eric Bana
Isaacs: Tom Hollander

Focus Features presents a film directed by Joe Wright. Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr. Running time: 111 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language).

“Hanna” begins in the winter wilderness. There is a girl hunting with a bow and arrow. This is Hanna. She kills a buck and starts the process of cleaning the animal out in an open field of snow. A man appears behind her and tells her that she’s dead. They fight. The man eventually overpowers her, but their fight feels like training. For ‘what’ is as much of a mystery as who these people are.

This is how we begin the unusual espionage thriller “Hanna”. I’m not sure ‘espionage thriller’ is really the proper label for this story that somewhat defies categorization. But, that’s the right area. Hanna’s mystery unfolds slowly, much slower than the action and pace of the film. This is good.

I don’t think it would benefit the reader for me to outline much of the film’s plot. It’s filled with too many secrets to be revealed. The audience should discover those themselves. I will reveal that the man is indeed training the child. He is an asset for a secret government agency. Her mother is dead from some sort of agency related incident. When the girl is ready to enter the world, he calls his agency and leaves. A woman working for the agency is very interested to find the girl when her agents go looking for the man, but the girl quickly escapes. And, that will be all of that.

Director Joe Wright is about the last director I would expect to produce the material found in “Hanna”. Wright’s credits include one of the most recent and best adaptations of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and the WWII period romance-tragedy “Atonement”. A spy thriller doesn’t just spring up from that sort of pedigree. Yet, what Wright creates with “Hanna” is a unique thriller, filled with mystery and his distinct visual flavor, proving that he is a multi-facetted director who might be part of the upper echelon of great directors of this generation.

Like I said, “Hanna” isn’t exactly a spy thriller. It also contains elements of science fiction. Watching it I got the distinct impression that Wright might be a fan of such sci-fi classics as “Silent Running” or “The Omega Man”. The government facility that Hanna escapes from gave me the same vibe as those films without actually referencing them. The themes of the film—considering the fact that Wright is British—are more likely derived from such sources as the ITV series “The Prisoner”. “Hanna” also resembles last year’s spy thriller “The American” in the way it meticulously depicts the routines and choices of its characters. “Hanna”, however, is a more fantastical take on the genre with much more kinetic action than the cerebral motifs of “The American”. In fact, the action of “Hanna” is intense enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The electronic score provided by modern techno masters The Chemical Brothers builds upon this intensity.

Instead of dipping into the typical action acting pool, Wright cast the film from his own pedigree. Saoirse Ronan, as the titular character, comes from Wright’s own “Atonement”. Ronan is a rising talent who furthers her reputation as a powerful young player with her apt and often cold performance as a girl who is much more than what she seems. Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth”) fills the role of the agent in charge of capturing Hanna and her father, bringing more to it than your typical James Bond villain. While Eric Bana (“Hulk”) has tackled a little mainstream action before, his experience fuels those elements that inspire suspense within the action itself, making for action scenes that serve the plot rather than existing for their own sake. Tom Hollander (from Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice”) provides what would be the typical villain’s stooge in another movie, but here comes across as something more sinister.

“Hanna” is a different kind of spy film that shows that Joe Wright is a different type of director that can do different styles and genres with the same amount of success that he achieved with his initial period romance material. The way Wright combines traditional spy filmmaking elements with a unique sci-fi flare and the same amount of attention to the look of the picture as with his period material proves his diversity as a director and his value as an auteur. While “Hanna” is more than satisfying in its own right, it also has me excited to see just about anything that Wright will produce in the future.

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