Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hanna: Little Killer in the Big World

Directed By: Joe Wright
Written By: Seth Lochhead and David Farr, Story by Seth Lochhead
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jessica Barden, and Olivia Williams
Director of Photography: Alwin H. Kuckler, Editor: Paul Tothill, Production Designer: Sarah Greenwood, Original Music: The Chemical Brothers
Rated: PG-13 for some intense in-your-face violence, a little language and a suggestion of sex

            Watching Hanna I realized how much two of director Joe Wright’s previous films now felt anarchronistic to his taste. While his adaptations of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and Ian McEwan’s Atonement were reserved and flowing with the veins of their literary authors, his latest film, the action thriller Hanna, couldn’t be more radical in style. It comes as a surprise that neither of those two films featured rapid editing, pounding techno scores, or sheer intensity (Atonement did have a 7 minute tracking shot on the shores of Dunkirk, a show stopping moment in the often restrained film).

            So why hasn’t Mr. Wright done an action film before, as Hanna proves he is certain capable, if not extremely unique as an in-your-face director that doesn’t just shove you into the story, but throws you face first into the mud. A twisted coming-of-age tale mixed with a Jason Bounre-like narrative, Hanna is an intense if silly action ride, but kept together by its lead performer, the loveable Saoirse Ronan.

            Ms. Ronan, now 17, has easily made the transition from child star in Atonement to full fledged actress. There’s a certain depth to her that is more than just surface curiosity, and the depths she pulls to here as an ass-kicking girl is unique, not in all the same vein as Chloe Mortez did in Kick Ass (more hindered by the script than her performance). Ms. Ronan plays the titular Hanna, who lives with her father (Eric Bana) in the artic circle, where she trains, kills wild animals, and learns how to be a killing machine. The plan slowly reveals itself, as Hanna is being trained to kill a CIA agent named Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett with a Southern twist and a delectable taste of evil running through her spine. Hanna’s adventures take her from Morocco to Spain to Germany, as she balances her life as a young girl, finally part of society, as well as a trained assassin. Ms. Ronan knows how to make us feel, and as she experiences the wind in her face or the chaos of electricity, we feel her role in this insanity.

            But it’s Mr. Wright who is firing on all cylinders, channeling everyone from Martin Scorsese to David Fincher to Park Chan-Wook. Mr. Wright almost intrudes into the film, either using impressive tracking shots for fight sequences, intense editing structures to create chaos, or simply using the Chemical Brothers to support the visuals with a pulsating score. The result is to throw us into the chaos and assault us, noted by the almost rhythmic use of the shot of a gun right toward the screen.

            If the screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr can’t compensate for the balls out intensity, its perhaps because Mr. Wright is too focused on his visual assault that any script normality or obviousness feels underwhelming. But watching Ms. Ronan and especially Ms. Blanchett jump around this insane but logical world (the set designs and costumes by Sarah Greenwood are pitch-perfect, feeling like a fairy tale by way of Ozzy Osbourne) make up for its almost casual script, much too normal for Mr. Wright’s vision. The result might feel like something ridiculous, but Hanna aims for high absurdity, languishing in it, with a crooked smile to turn the knife.

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