Saturday, April 9, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna

Erik Heller (Eric Bana) and his daughter Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lead a rugged existence in a snow covered forest in Finland.  It appears that the father is readying his daughter to endure a life of frigid isolation.  He is in fact preparing her for the ordeal her life will inevitably become.  Erik is a highly trained CIA agent that has disappeared off the grid. His daughter Hanna, now yearning for independence, wishes to experience the outside world.  

Knowing that this will attract the attention of corrupt CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who has been tracking the two for years, Erik vaguely warns Hanna of the situation.  He sends Hanna out into the world, initiating a deadly cat and mouse game.  Her acquired skills will be tested time and again as she fends of pursuers and moves ever closer to uncovering the truth of her existence.

Saoirse Ronan as Hanna

Hanna was directed by Joe Wright, a filmmaker who does not specialize in such fair, though you’d never know it by watching the film.  Hanna applies an artist’s patient eye to well-worn material.  The results are at once both alien and intimately familiar.  It doesn’t necessarily give rise to a new aesthetic, but applies a spiffy buff and shine to a rusted out classic.

If cinema is truly a language all its own, Hanna speaks it with crystal clarity and precise annunciation.  Whereas a more “artistic” approach to populist entertainment often results in needless complication, here it has a simplifying effect.  The shot selections, compositions, and editing clear away the visual clutter that has become de rigueur for modern action films.  Together they make lovely visual sense, and are deliberate without slowing down the momentum.  The action sequences themselves have the effect of still photographs organized in storyboard form.  So precise is this approach that many extended sequences need not a hint of dialogue.

Eric Bana in beast mode.

The action employs a variety of techniques.  While modern sensibilities are present, Joe Wright understands the importance of coherence.  The camera pulls back when it needs to, and the action slows down when necessary.  There is a brief but amazing melee in a Berlin subway station that is done in one unbroken shot.  The camera swirls around the combatants, and everyone hits their marks.  It’s truly a thing of beauty. 

The writing is just as precise as the visuals.  Moments and emotions that are better conveyed visually are allowed to speak for themselves.  In humorous moments of character interaction, the dialogue is sped up to match the pace of the action.  It’s funny and smart without being forced or overdone, emotionally affecting without being corny.  The writers imbue these characters with humanity and depth without piling it on in an obvious way.  Hanna’s friendship with the young Sophie (Jessica Barden) is perhaps the best example of how successful the film is in this regard.

The acting is shorn of any extraneous baggage.  Saoirse Ronan conveys doe eyed innocence despite her capacity for efficient killing.  The actress is both fearsome and sympathetic.  Eric Bana projects a manly version of the same.  His usual blandness serves him well here, reading more as vulnerability.  He is more a protector than a robotic hired gun.  Cate Blanchett is the polar opposite of a mother figure, devoid of any warmth or maternal skills.  Jessica Barden’s blind acceptance and embracing of Hanna is subtly touching.   

Hanna is a refreshingly artful and stripped down take on the action picture the era of Paul Greengrass and Michael Bay.  Joe Wright reveals that action movies are most effective when in their purist form.  Excessive run times and pretentious embellishments serve as a hindrance.  An artist’s job is to communicate with his audience in the clearest and most effective manner possible.  Hanna does that in spades.  


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