Tuesday 17 May 2011

HANNA review

Starring Saoirse Ronan as a teen assassin with a mission to complete, Hanna is out now in cinemas. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Raised in a cabin in the woods by her father (Eric Bana), Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been trained to be a calculating killer so that one day she can enact revenge on shadowy government agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett). What Marissa has done to earn the wrath of her father Hanna does not know, but his strict orders will be followed anyway. When Hanna's assassination attempt goes awry she's given a chance to experience life in a way she'd not been able to before, but also with Hiller now out to capture her.

Although the concept of an innocent looking but highly deadly teenage assassin is hardly a new one (Hit Girl in Kick-Ass being a recent example), Hanna is actually a surprisingly original take on the idea, albeit one with mixed results. The early snow covered scenes are a great introduction to the character and show what a strange life this young girl has been subjected to. Raised by the mysterious but highly trained Erik (Bana), they've existed as hunter/gatherers, waiting for the right time to spring into action.

The one undeniable fact of Hanna is that its young teenage star Saoirse Ronan is absolutely great in it. A talented actress who has so far managed to steer clear of typical Hollywood teen roles, she's surely headed into a long career; something which makes it all the more annoying that the film which features her first lead role only ever manages to be just alright. As the titular blood spattered blonde Ronan deserves a lot of praise, but on the weirdness scale Hanna too often tips the balance thanks to its fairytale infused narrative that creates a bizarre clash of styles.

The film also proves that Joe Wright, hitherto known as the director of classy period fare like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, can direct action and do it well. When Hanna is at her most ruthless the film comes alive, her escape from a heavily militarised compound being a highlight made all the more engrossing thanks to the always welcome Chemical Brothers soundtrack. It's probably the most thrilling part of the film, but unfortunately the filmmakers have got no idea where to take the story from there, moving it off its expected path and into comic family hijinks.

The family that Hanna teams up with will certainly divide opinion. Experiencing a road trip in the way a stereotypically bickering family would, their impact on Hanna's life and mission does prove crucial in both plot and character development, although I can't help but think that the characters belong to a different film. Having said that, I did find Jessica Barden's typical teen Sophie charmingly funny, waxing lyrical like a young Julie Walters with ridiculously uninformed statements like she wants to be a lesbian, but one who "only hold hands". She has the innocence of youth that Hanna can't have, and when the two decide to be friends it's quite sweet.

The fairytale elements don't work for the most part, and once you've spotted the subtext they prove to be a distraction from an otherwise interesting idea. Cate Blanchett is lumbered with playing the pantomime villain, at various points in the film seen (just short of literally) sharpening her teeth and standing next to gigantic renderings of the big, bad wolf. She's bad, I geddit. There's also many other members of the cast that send the film into outright lunacy. Tom Hollander's camp neo nazi may succeed at being threatening at first, but he's dressed too absurdly for any fear to linger, and don't even get me started on his bomber jacketed henchmen.

The easier reference point may be Natalie Portman's Matilda in Leon, but the character shares more in common with 1985's robo-boy "classic", D.A.R.Y.L. Both thrust into a world that they don't recognise, they have to adapt to their surroundings quickly, not realising they have a dark secret within them that the government wants to keep secret. Wait a sec... D.A.R.Y.L? Hanna? Daryl Hannah. That's weird.

Far from being terrible, it's such a shame that large portions of the film just don't work. The whole fairytale allegory was a turn off for me, and it just hasn't translated well from script to screen (the script for Hanna featured on the much lauded Black List, twice). Although it has occasional moments to savour (Hanna's cross examination in the compound, Bana's fight in the subway), the tone is far too erratic to get a handle on. I have no doubts that star Saoirse Ronan and director Joe Wright will go on to great things, but this is far from their best work.


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