A fairy tale of lightning speed, gritty action and shocking gravity, all driven by the electronic beat of a hypnotic score by the Chemical Brothers. The gifted British director Joe Wright excels at knocking you off balance and forcing you to rearrange his puzzle pieces in your head. Out of a script by David Farr and Seth Lockhead, Wright carves a surreal fable of blood and regret. Saoirse Ronan is an acting sorceress, and her scenes with the excellent Eric Bana cut bone deep. Cate Blanchett is superb. As Hanna confronts her past, the movie becomes like nothing you’ve ever seen. I’d call it a knockout.
The movie stars a mesmerizing Saoirse Ronan as its young heroine; Eric Bana as her father, Erik Heller, a former CIA agent; and a supremely witchy Cate Blanchett as the Teutonically named Marissa Wiegler – a powerful CIA operative whose enmity for both dad and daughter is the key to the story’s secrets. Shot in four countries, Hanna is an exhilarating breakout for Joe Wright, a British director known for his gritty realism, who made his reputation with a pair of memorable period pieces – his early Pride & Prejudice and the elegant Atonement, which put Ronan on the film world’s radar. Fast-paced and full of wonders, this is Wright’s most audacious movie yet and may prove to be one of the best of the year. Courtesy of Wright and cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, Hanna instantly plunges us into another world, at once familiar, strange, and breathtakingly beautiful, with an aerial pan over vast expanses of glittering snow that leads to an evergreen forest hiding a primitive split-log cabin right out of ‘Hansel and Gretel . . . There’s nothing natural about the grimly spectacular underworld where Hanna is taken. A high-tech riff on classical mythology, this is Marissa’s domain, a place of death and experimentation, heavily guarded and all but drained of color. The exception is Blanchett’s Marissa, with her impeccably coiffed red hair, even redder lips, and – in one of Wright’s most inspired touches – a close-up of the blood oozing from her gum line after she’s flossed. Striking and boldly original, a non-stop thrill.
Hanna is a first-rate thriller about the drawbacks of home schooling. A cross between a fairy tale and a high-tech action movie. Director Joe Wright (‘Atonement’) combines his two genres into a stylish exercise that . . . includes some sentiment and insight. Of course the movie reminded me of ‘Kick-Ass’ (2010), the action fantasy about a deadly young girl. I like ‘Hanna’ a good deal more, because in its quirky way, it has something to say, a certain wit and a command of the visual poetry of action. Joe Wright has been known until now for civilized literary adaptations, also including the wonderful Keira Knightley version of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ He's not a vulgarian. He has a purpose here, and I think it's to stir some of the same fundamental emotional parts that are reached by fairy tales, especially of the Grimm variety. He demonstrates that action movies need not be mindless. There is a role for creative choreography in them, even in largely CGI scenes like a chase sequence involving shipping containers on a dock. Even when human bodies are not really there, their apparent movements must be choreographed, and that sequence is a beauty. Wright and his writers, Seth Lochhead and David Farr, do something else that's effective. They introduce an element of reality. Hanna is good, sound filmmaking. It depends on stylistic order and discipline, a clear story map and ingenious action sequences. It is not all banging and flashing. Saoirse Ronan takes on a difficult role and aces it with as much confidence as she did in ‘Atonement,’ in which she played a much different character.
’Hanna’ is the bad-ass girl-power movie ‘Sucker Punch’ wanted to be — or at least should have wanted to be — and the thriller that Angelina Jolie's ‘Salt’ only was at times. Director Joe Wright keeps this story of revenge and survival moving in stylish, pulsating fashion. And of course he has one long, breathtaking tracking shot, which has become a signature for the director of such films as 2007's ‘Atonement.’ But at its core, this is actually a coming-of-age drama, and the fact that it features such great performances from such a strong cast makes you care whether these people live or die. Erik (Eric Bana) teaches Hanna (Saoirse Ronan to hunt, fight and speak in various languages. Their hand-to-hand combat scenes are quick, intense, visceral — until one day she tells him, ‘I'm ready.’ Hanna's purpose is to track down veteran intelligence operative Marissa Wiegler, played by Cate Blanchett in a coldly devious way that's always fun to watch. Blanchett is all honeyed menace as a ruthless Texan who can turn on the charm when she has to. Olivia Williams is lovely, and a rare source of warmth, as the New-Agey mother, while Jessica Barden steals all her scenes here, as she did in ‘Tamara Drewe,’ as the sassy teenager who becomes Hanna's first real friend. Saoirse Ronan is so centered and confident. That fact that she is this good at this young age is what’s truly frightening here.
The single most compelling reason to see “Hanna” is Hanna herself. As played by Saoirse Ronan, who made her first big splash as another morally challenged youngster in Wright’s 2007 “Atonement,” the character is a fascinating and frustrating cipher. Trained in hand-to-hand combat, survival skills, evasive maneuvers and gun handling, she drives the movie forward with a watchability that’s as compulsive as it is propulsive . . . Director Joe Wright has come up with one heck of an excuse to go to the multiplex. In short order, “Hanna” turns into a classic popcorn movie, subclassification: chase flick. Eat with one hand, because you’ll need the other to hang on to your seat, as the film lunges from Finland to Morocco to Spain to Germany, where Erik and his daughter have agreed to rendezvous. The cinematography is eye-popping, culminating in a surreal sequence set in a derelict Berlin amusement park. . . . Who exactly is Hanna? And why does Marissa (Cate Blanchett) want her so badly? Those are just a couple of the film’s many mysteries, which writers Seth Lockhead and David Farr unravel at just the right pace. There’s also some welcome comic relief, courtesy of an English family on holiday that Hanna hitches a ride with. Jessica Barden (so wonderful in “Tamara Drewe”) is a treat as the family’s smart-mouthed teenage daughter and, briefly, Hanna’s first real friend. . . . At one point, someone asks Marissa — who has a compelling reason to care what kind of person Hanna turns into — whether the girl we see in the movie turned out like Marissa had hoped. “Better,” she says icily. In balance, I’d agree.
Director Joe Wright’s first foray into the action field triumphs on all levels, starting with the main villain: Cate Blanchett as rigid, frigid CIA witch Marissa Wiegler prompts the kind of ‘kill her now!’ audience impulses that drive the action forward. Saoirse Ronan, Oscar-nominated for portraying a creepy snitch in 2007’s Atonement (also directed by Wright), proves her mettle from the first frame, where she’s shown stalking a reindeer 25 miles from the North Pole. Hanna’s uniformly strong performances unspool against gorgeous, globe-hopping vistas from cinematographer Alwin Kuchler. The action, underscored by an unbearably tense electronic score by The Chemical Brothers and dramatized in crackling fight scenes staged by ‘Bourne Supremacy’ stunt choreographer Jeff Imada, is fast, clean and stripped of artifice. There’s also a fresh-eyed look at friendship and an irresistible rooting interest for this 16-year-old girl who only wants to figure out who she really is. As with Jason Bourne, it may not seem like a lot to ask, but the quest culminates in a unique third act that manages to meld mayhem with magical realism, without resorting to superpowers, computer-generated trickery or flame-throwing bazookas. In the meantime, one correction needs to be made about ‘Hanna’. Hanna, the hunter, bookends the movie with the dry observation, “I just missed your heart.” Actually, Hanna, you didn’t.
Grade: A! ‘Hanna’ is a kinetic, vibrant, sometimes completely insane adventure. A great thriller! Saoirse Ronan is immensely talented. Director Joe Wright stages some exhilarating chase sequences, made all the more intense by some great music from the Chemical Brothers. The fairy tale symbolism is omnipresent as we question Hanna's origins and delight in the elaborate games of cat-and-mouse. One of the best times you'll have at the movies this year.