Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Hanna (2011, Joe Wright)

The titular character played by Saoirse Ronan is introduced as a hunter, a killer, a girl possessing strength and intricate skill beyond her 16years. Her father Erik (Eric Bana) is the cause for these impressive survival skills; he has trained her to deal with any situation, to fight or think her way out of any corner she may find herself in. The father and daughter live alone in snow-capped rural Finland, seemingly hundreds of miles away from civilisation in every direction. They hunt, cook, learn, and fight together in and around their wooden lodge. One day Erik presents Hanna with a red button, he reminds her that when she's ready, when she thinks she's prepared,  that she may press the button. He also reminds her that when this occurs there is no going back. This already abstract and disorientating introduction is further heightened when Erik informs Hanna that when said button is activated, a woman (unknown to us at this point) will not stop until she is dead. Of course it's not too long before this mysterious button is pressed and all hell breaks loose. For the sake of the film's content, spoilers will be kept to an absolute minimum as its unfolding mystery is the fuel that just keeps Hanna going.

Hanna and Erik go their separate ways and are hunted down for unknown reasons by villainous CIA task master Cate Blanchett. As Hanna is reprimanded and escapes, keeping only just ahead of her pursuers, we witness the world through her eyes for the first time as she finds things that we take for granted (such as a kettle or television) as threatening. She ends up being under the wing of a British liberalist family traveling through Morocco, she befriends the group's shallow teenage daughter who teaches Hanna about boys and makeup and all the things that Erik filtered out on behalf of her survival, while the parents (played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) preach about how children need freedom of expression. It's in this meeting that the film's voice starts to be heard, though it's soon muted through the offensive under-use of both Williams and Flemyng. 

As the film develops it gradually becomes more and more surrealistic and ends up mirroring a Grimm fairy tale, the film has many references to the Grimm Brother's work throughout - most strikingly Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. As the hunters tracking both Hanna and Erik gradually move closer, dormant secrets are gradually unearthed revealing a dark past kept hidden and the reasons behind Hanna's strange existence.

Hanna marks a turning point for director Joe Wright, who has given us luscious period dramas Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007) in the past. Here he takes on the action genre for the first time, and while it must be applauded on some level for Wright trying new things, it's painfully obvious how his sensibilities and strengths as a director simply don't mesh with the material. Hanna is a film that demands a consistent pace, an intense feeling of forward motion, but only when the film slows down does it ever feel comfortable. When a fast edited fight or chase sequence occurs it feels awkward and strangely at odds with itself, even the mightily impressive score by The Chemical Brothers feels out of place and jarring when it hits loud and fast to accompanying such scenes. When, however, the film slows down, we see the film's most impactive moments. Wright has become famous for his complicated long takes, at the film's centre is a set piece which is just as (if not more so) impressive as the infamous bathhouse fight in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007). We follow Erik as he exits a bus, walks across a street, and enters an underground tube station before being attacked from all sides, all in a single breathless take. The choreography is masterful in every regard and further reminds why Wright gets such praise as a technical craftsman.

The film's pathos is an interesting one as it examines parent-child relationships. Though Hanna far from represents the average teenage girl, the film expresses a fear from both child and parent perspectives about facing the world. To the young, the world is a vast mystery that must be explored and tested no matter what the danger to define oneself. From the older perspective, the parent has seen the horrors of the world and has perhaps been worn down through them, they must protect and prepare their child for life, but can a parent ever truly prepare? After all, we need space to grow, we must face trials and fail in order to evolve. As father Erik says to his daughter, "I tried to prepare you", "you didn't prepare me for this", she replies.

Unfortunately this pathos is more interesting than the film's attempt at exploring it. Even though Hanna has ambitions and rises far above average mainstream fare, it fails to reach the heights of these ambitions. It's an exciting enough experience as the offbeat, oddball nature gives it a directionless quality that retains interest and suspense. In the end however, when the final line is uttered, in retrospect Hanna ends up being entirely directionless as a result of this and not nearly as interesting as it could have been.

Hanna delivers some fantastic images, some masterful segments, and an interesting meditation on parenting, but the sum of its parts don't amount to much in the end. Hanna should be the kind of big budget Hollywood thriller that we all want; a film that delivers thrills, action and suspense, along with rounded characters, humour, and heightened ideas to boot. With a cast this good and a concept this enticing it's sad to say that Hanna is neither a profound movie of ideas or a slick action thriller, while desperately trying to be both.