Now Playing: ‘Hanna’ Slays

It’s funny to watch the marketing for ‘Hanna’, Joe Wright’s new little girl assassin film that opens this weekend, change and evolve. When the first trailers came out, the advertising emphasized the film’s weirdness – its spooky modern fairy tale feel, the angular font created specifically for the movie – whereas that aspect has been toned down recently. Out went the cool font, replaced by a more “action movie”-style chunky job, and the emphasis on the film’s action sequences has been intensified. Someone is spooked by the movie’s oddness, which is a shame. It’s a much better film than it appears; much weirder too.

‘Hanna’ opens on a snowy Scandinavian lake, with a hunter pursuing an elk. We see the elk running through the woods, and then out onto a frozen lake, where an arrow fells it. The hunter approaches the beast, and reveals the face of a young girl (Saoirse Ronan). “Just missed your heart,” she murmurs. “You’re already dead,” a man says behind her, holding a gun to her back. A brawl ensues and afterwards it’s revealed that the man (Eric Bana) is her father.

Hanna has been conditioned by her father to be the perfect killing machine – agile, cunning, and quick. He tells her that when she’s ready, she can flip a switch (a kind of magic red button) and men will come for her, and she’ll be able to face down her greatest opponent – Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the woman responsible for her father’s exile from society. So… she flips the switch. And it all goes to shit.

The rest of the movie is essential a chase film, with Hanna captured and brought to “Holding,” a mysterious tank deep in the desert. She promptly escapes and goes on the lam, hiding out with a nomadic hippie family led by Olivia Williams. Not only is Hanna running from Marissa, but she’s also being hunted by a kind of ambi-sexual German killer (Tom Hollander from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘) who Marissa has employed. It’s the kind of breathless, on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense stuff that’s rarely seen in mainstream action films.

But a mainstream action film is not what ‘Hanna’ is. It’s a thriller, for sure, but it’s significantly weirder than most thrillers. There’s an odd, implacable pace to the film, in which things are always escalating and cascading on top of one another. You can’t ever calm down because there’s something explosive and impossible just around the corner. This is aided by the Chemical Brothers’ block-rocking soundtrack, in which fat beats add jet fuel to already tense sequences.

There are also odd, off-putting character flourishes (Cate Blanchett has an obsession with oral hygiene and shoes, and there’s a character who lives in an abandoned amusement park) as well as a thick shellacking of fairy tale mythology. In the ‘Hanna’-as-fairy-tale reading, Blanchett is the wicked witch, Tom Hollander is the big bad wolf, Saoirse is the princess… You get the idea. When, in the film’s finale, Blanchett walks out of a giant wolf’s head, it isn’t just a strikingly clever image; it’s downright brilliant.

That’s how I felt about all of ‘Hanna’, really. This could have been your typical action movie; in plot, it’s only a few degrees away from one of those flicks that premiers on HBO on Friday nights instead of Saturday. But director Joe Wright, previously known for prestige fair like ‘Pride & Prejudice‘ and ‘Atonement‘, brings a graceful, nimble touch to the material. He shoots the action sequences in long, fluid shots instead of the cinematic palsy that’s gripped action filmmaking post-‘Bourne’. It’s his off-kilter approach that makes ‘Hanna’ such a special, one-of-a-kind movie. There’s as much heart in it as there is ass-kicking. And there’s plenty of ass-kicking.


  1. Yeah, the advertising for this movie feels like the marketing they did for ‘The American’ which drew people to the theater, but did a disservice by making the movie out to be something it’s not.

    ‘Hanna’ is a great film. I really loved it, but I just think the mainstream movie-going audience is going to walk into this movie thinking that they’re about to see some awesome action movie and then they’ll walk out wondering what in the hell they just watched.

    • I’ll be honest, looking at the ads for this, the first thought in my head was: “They’re already remaking ‘Salt’? Didn’t that just come out?” I had no idea that Saoirse Ronan was even in the movie, much less that she’s the title character. I assumed that Cate Blanchett was Hanna.

  2. I love Joe Wright. As an exercise in filmmaking, I loved Hanna. But the movie really had not point to convey. I don’t really mean that in a negative way. I’m not saying it didn’t have a story, I’m saying that it didn’t really mean anything.

    It had first rate acting (you can keep the camera on the magnetic Saorise Ronan all day), great script, awesome cinematography and editing. Joe Wright is a bravura director. But when the final two shots were fired I turned to my best friend and said “That movie had no point”.

    Again, as a film buff, I adored the filmmaking, but it was….empty.

  3. The ‘kids grow up’ message is literally delivered by Eric Bana at the end of the movie. I didn’t say the movie had no story, I said it had no point. It wasn’t a movie that stuck with me after the credits rolled.

    I loved the filmmaking of it, but it’s just not memorable outside of that. So how can one enjoy the construction of a film but not really enjoy the motivation behind it?

    Basically Joe Wright is getting away with what Tarantino has been accused of for years and Zack Snyder got lambasted for with Sucker Punch: Making a cool movie for coolness’ sake.

    And again, I liked Hanna. Just didn’t love it.

  4. And to be more specific: Tarantino gets accused of just making his favorite 70’s exploitation films over and over for the sake of doing it.

    Zack Snyder got accused of making Sucker Punch just a fanboy geek-out of anime, steampunk sexploitation. Joe Wright basically just made his own Jason Bourne movie wrapped up in a coming-of-age “they don’t stay kids for ever” veneer. But basically he just wanted to make a cool spy/chase movie.

    But since he’s considered a ‘prestige’ director, he gets away with it. AGAIN, I’m not slamming Joe Wright, I guess I’m slamming critics and movie fans in general.

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