Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hanna

Grade: 53 (C+)

Joe Wright revitalized the period drama with his lively adaptation of Atonement, a film that that transcended the genre’s trappings through bravura sequences and resonated as a meditation on loss. It’s no surprise then that his take on an action film, Hanna, also goes for more than just thrills. But what in the world is it actually trying to say or do? Hanna re-establishes Wright as an important filmmaker with a great sense of visual panache, but the film’s point of view is muddled, and in the end it doesn’t seem to be about much of anything.

The fantastic young actress Saorise Ronan stars as Hanna, daughter of rogue CIA-agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Heller has trained Hanna in Antarctica her whole life. She is a proficient hunter and fighter, speaks several languages, and seems ready to become a spy in her own right. But Heller and Hanna have something else in mind; when Heller leaves and Hanna turns on a beacon to draw the in CIA, Heller’s former handler Marissa Weig (Cate Blanchett) arrives. Weig wants to cover up for past mistakes through eliminating Heller and Hanna, but Hanna is far more dangerous than her men expect; she easily kills several agents and escapes into Morocco, and from there it’s a race to see who’s who in this cat-and-mouse chase.

Wright directs the action sequences with the stylistic flair he hinted at in Atonement; the film frequently plays like the Bourne films as re-imagined as a pure sensory experience with a young girl in the lead role. Aided by a strange, fascinating electronic score by the Chemical Brothers and a strong central performance from Ronan, Hanna works as a stylistic work of genius and as a series of action sequences strung together. But what about the story?

Hanna makes its aspirations for something more early on when Hanna and her father read from the Brothers Grimm. The rest of the film is loaded with fairy-tale allusions: a family to serve as companions for Hanna while she hides out, a Wicked Witch of the West character (Blanchett, whose performance is marred by a distractingly cartoonish Southern accent) and her strange henchmen (Tom Hollander as an albino hitman who whistles one of the soundtrack’s more memorable themes), and a heroine unfamiliar with the world she encounters. But to what purpose? Hanna frustratingly dances around that question until it no longer seems interested in answering it. It doesn’t help that the films complex conspiracy plot doesn’t make much sense, nor does Bana’s decision to let Hanna take care of Blanchett rather than go after her himself. Hanna is ultimately more about the journey its protagonist goes on rather than her destination, but that journey has to be about something, and in the end the film’s purpose isn’t clear. As a technical achievement, the film is admirable, but it’s ultimately far too cold and bare to engender genuine affection.

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