Six Years After Its Release, Hanna Still Kicks Butt
On its anniversary, we count the ways Joe Wright’s action ride still thrills us.
On April 8, 2011, Joe Wright’s action-packed thriller Hanna hit audiences like a punch of pure adrenaline. “The movie becomes like nothing you've ever seen,” exclaimed Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers. “I'd call it a knockout.” Along with its fierce 15-year-old heroine, the film's wild mix of fairy tales, fight scenes, high-kicking action, and emotional vulnerability took audiences to new, unexpected places. Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, the film tells the story of Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl being trained as an assassin by her father (Eric Bana). But who she is supposed to kill––and why––remains a secret. That is until a rogue CIA operative (Cate Blanchett) attempts to capture her, setting off a heart-pounding chase across Africa and Europe in which the question of who is hunting who remains a mystery until the very end.
In the six years since it was released, Hanna has grown only more exciting, both as an action film with a teenage girl at its center and as a cinematic experience that mashes up genres and styles to create something wholly original. Both its director and star have gone on to remarkable careers. Wright's new film, Darkest Hour, is due out this fall from Focus. Recently there’s even been talk of turning Hanna into a TV series. As part of a celebration of Focus Features’ 15th anniversary, we’re remembering some of our favorite films. Here we add up the reasons why Hanna still rocks.
Saoirse Ronan’s powerhouse performance
Saoirse Ronan received international attention with her Oscar-nominated performance in Wright’s previous film Atonement. But in Hanna, she not only takes her acting to a new level, but makes the title figure an unforgettable character––and a powerful role model for young women everywhere. To play the girl who could do anything, Ronan had to work round the clock, starting physical and martial arts training three month before shooting. “Physically, it was tough,” she tells the Daily Mail. “I had a lot of fight scenes to do and I did everything myself.”
More difficult was finding Hanna’s heart. Ronan connected to the young assassin by discovering what they had in common. “She’s going through the same thing that every teenager goes through,” Ronan tells the Daily Mail. “Stepping out into the world thinking everything is going to be perfect and everyone is going to be good, and it’s not like that.”
Wright sees an uncanny likeness between the actress and character, both being paradoxically ordinary and super human. “She’s preternaturally talented,” Wright explains to Coming Soon. “But in another sense, Saoirse is the most normal teenager you’ll ever like to meet.” Ronan’s talent for showcasing that dichotomy on screen gives the film its emotional wallop. For New York Magazine’s David Edelstein, “What keeps us hooked is Ronan, a young actress of seemingly limitless abilities, and the tension she creates between Hanna’s inhumanly agile body and quizzical eyes.”
A killer score from The Chemical Brothers
For Hanna's score, Wright turned to The Chemical Brothers, the English electronic duo with whom he’d been friends since his club days in the 90s. Sound was so essential to telling this story that Wright even created a playlist to introduce the title character––who grew up never hearing music––to songs that mattered.
To get the right mix of harmony and chaos, The Chemical Brothers worked intimately with the sound effects team to blend music with the clamor of everyday life. The score “sprang from the sounds that surround us every day, so there was no division between the sound effects and the music,” Wright tells Ain’t it Cool.
The Chemical Brothers not only scored the film, but the filmmaking as well. For a scene that involved a Snow White-themed strip club, Wright asked the musical duo to create a “fairy tale theme that could be kind of whistled by the baddies throughout the movie later on,” the director told Birth.Movies.Death. “Once we had those tracks, we would play them while we were filming on a big sound system, or I’d just play their albums to give a rhythm.”
A fairy tale come true
While much of the fast-packed action and high-tech espionage make Hanna feel like a graphic novel sprung to life, Wright took his inspiration from an earlier, darker source—fairy tales. “I felt that fairy tales were a great portal really through which to enter the subconscious in the way Jung used archetypes,” Wright explains.
Fairy tales are an integral strand of Wright’s own creative DNA. “My parents have a puppet theatre in London and they staged fairy tale puppet shows—The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel,” Wright tells Vulture. “I’ve watched all these stories thousands and thousands of times; literally, my cradle was under the stage. So it’s part of my own subconscious, my own makeup.”
Throughout the film, Wright drops tiny breadcrumbs to lead us back to the fairy tale theme. "Sometimes the dark fairy tale aspect was to be almost subliminal; Joe's vision of Marissa as the Wicked Witch of the story meant that her colors would be red and green,” explains costume designer Lucie Bates. In building the house in the woods, production designer Sarah Greenwood went straight to the source: “Hans Christian Andersen was our inspiration, but we expanded on tradition to introduce our interpretations - including the book [of Grimms' fairy tales] that Hanna has had at home." Even the terrifying wolf’s head covering an amusement park tunnel reminds us of the darker side of fairy tales.
One of the best fights scenes, ever
From the first arrow to the last shot, Hanna provides non-stop action with unparalleled fight scenes choreographed by Jeff Imada, the man behind such action blockbusters as The Bourne Supremacy. From hand-to-hand combat in Finland’s freezing temperatures to leaping from shipping containers in Spain, Hanna never stops moving. But one action sequence stands out. “The subway fight scene,” notes The Goat Series, “will go down as one of the greatest long take fight scenes in history.”
To film the scuffle in which Bana takes down an army of grey-suited strangers in a Berlin underground station, Wright created a perfect creative storm with Imada’s balletic fight choreography, Bana’s athletic prowess, Greenwood’s dreamlike subway design, and cinematographer Alwin Küchler’s Steadicam shooting. For Bana, the one-shot scene meant he could never depend on a stunt person. As an actor, that pressure amped up his performance. “The adrenaline is a little heightened,” Bana tells the Houston Chronicle. “You feel like something real is at stake.”
It goes to the ends of the world
To get their locations just right, Wright and his team went where few, if any, film crews have ventured before. For the frigid fights scenes framed by a vast, forbidding Nordic landscape, the production traveled to a section of Finland by the Russian border. While the area of Kuusamo is breathtakingly beautiful, it had rarely accommodated a film unit of this size before. No doubt because its artic temperature take your breath away in a different way. “Temperatures could be as low as -37 degrees Celsius [-35 Fahrenheit],” location manager Hessu Tönkyrä notes.
The film went to the other extreme of the thermometer for the scenes set in Morocco. After shooting in the scorching desserts of Ouarzazate "where the thermostat twice reached 122 degrees," producer Leslie Holleran recounts, "We quickly learned to wrap scarves around our heads to keep cool.”
Even in Berlin, one of the most filmed cities in the world, the locations team found a site few had ever seen, let alone pictured in their imagination. Getting the rights to shoot at Spreepark, an amusement park that had long been abandoned in the woods outside East Berlin, literally changed the story. The end of the film, recalls locations executive Markus Bensch, “got a major rewrite mainly for the reason that no scriptwriter could imagine a place like that in the middle of Berlin and no producer would agree to build such a place."
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