“I don’t know what she is. Sometimes she acts like the heroine of an epic fantasy novel and sometimes she acts like she’s about nine years old, which might be cute if she didn’t kill people.” Technically this quote was originally written by Austin Grossman about a fairy in his book Soon I Will Be Invincible, but this blend of innocence and danger is what keeps Hanna from losing itself amongst the masses of other films of this genre.
Hanna gets its name from the protagonist, a teenage girl who was raised in the woods of northern Finland by her father, learning skills to survive on her own. However, “survival skills” are much more than the basic learning to live off of the land skills like hunting and turning furry animals into fashion pieces. In addition to these merit badges she also adorns the badge of a trained weapon, and for reasons unknown she is about to be set free in Europe as she revisits the past of her family and puts her knowledge to work.
Most action films of this nature today cannot avoid being compared to The Bourne Trilogy, and Hanna is no exception. However, it is in the similarities of action, mystery and pacing that is also how the film sets itself apart, so that by the end of it the only connection between the two is the question of which lead would win in a fight. Though I don’t know if she would prevail, I would say as far as characters are concerned I would choose Hanna between the two and love the way in which her understanding of the world influences the way in which it is presented to the audience.
Similarly to the exaggerated war beasts of 300, much of the world seems heightened due to Hanna’s lack of knowledge. After all, living in the woods with only an encyclopedia as a basis for understanding the unknown can leave someone extremely unprepared. Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, and though I cannot commend her enough for her strength and proficiency in the action bits as a completely believable assassin, her age and size (and obvious acting skills) make her perfect for this role as she adds a level of naiveté to the character, and this dichotomy creates an amazingly fantastical world.
Though Ronan can be applauded for adding to this, it isn’t in her character alone that this world becomes a strange and slightly altered, unrecognizable place, building off of the Grimm’s fairy tale collection that Hanna had as her only other source of literature in the wild. The locations are truly inspired, from the CIA base, cargo containers, and dinosaur graveyard, all being manipulated in certain ways to make them look and feel like a child’s playground. Heck, even a major fight takes place on an actual playground, and in addition to the others listed above these locations create haunting images contradicting innocence with violence.
On top of these locations something else that can be compared to the fairytales are the perfectly over-the-top characters. Other than Hanna’s father (who does not get enough time on screen, though Eric Bana makes the most of what he is given), most other people Hanna comes across seem like heightened caricatures of actual people, from the ADHD British teen with a love of pop-culture and fast paced dialog to the villains who progress like an unstoppable force in many ways. Cate Blanchett plays Marissa Wiegler, an agent connected to Erik and Hanna’s past who keeps her cool for the most part as she always acts as if she has the upper hand, however every once in a while Blanchett lets her crazy seep through to such a degree that makes her seem maniacally unstable under the surface. Wiegler also surrounds herself with a colorful assortment of hitmen, the best being Tom Hollander as Isaacs, another character who is way more than meets the eye. Let me put it simply: nothing is creepier than having a (most likely) gay version of Hitler’s dream chasing you down in short shorts while whistling the catchiest tune since Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver in Kill Bill.
With the locations, characters, and fight sequences (which are artistically filmed in terms of speed and camera angles) the final element that wraps the film up nicely is the music/sound editing. In addition to the fluctuating levels of ambient sound, as the film follows a girl with no understanding of music, the scores (created by The Chemical Brothers) are formed by disjointed sounds and rhythms that somehow manage to come together beautifully, impacting the flow and feel of the film as the music of Run Lola Run did.
Though we spend the majority of the film with a faint understanding of why Hanna is globetrotting as she unravels her past and connections to the other characters, it is far from frustrating as the truth reveals itself at a satisfying pace that allows for the action to play out within the arc. And what a journey it is, filled with fantastical locations and characters, amplifying Hanna’s lack of understanding and polarizing nature as a weapon and teenage girl seeing the world for the first time. Long story short, Hanna is easily one of the best all around films I have seen in a while, on course to be a favorite of the year.
Final Grade: A-