Film, Spies

Film: Hanna

October 31, 2011

Filled with beautiful international scenery, Hanna (2011) is a stylish and compelling spy film, carried by the charismatic lead performance of young Saoirse Ronan.  While it suffers from occasional clashes of tone — its comic book plot and energetic postmodern production lead to occasionally distracting missteps — it’s otherwise a wholly engaging action-adventure film.

Ronan stars as Hanna Heller, the teenaged daughter of superspy Erik (Eric Bana), who lives with her in seclusion in the snowy wilds of Scandinavia.  Hanna’s been “home-schooled” to excess, her mind a veritable enclyopaedia of facts and figures, and she’s been trained rigorously in combat and weapons.  Erik has been planning an operation against his former CIA handlers, and Hanna is his primary weapon.  To set the plan in motion, Hanna triggers a beacon that tips off CIA officer Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) to Erik’s location.  Wiegler  sends out a recovery team, but when it arrives Erik’s already gone.  Hanna, on the other hand, is captured.  Which is, of course, all part of the plan…

Hanna is deftly crafted and entertaining stuff, spinning its initial intrigues into an entertaining action travelogue across Europe, while gradually revealing its central mystery.  That mystery isn’t particularly complex — and really, Erik’s plan seems like little more than an excuse to reveal it —  but it’s plenty of fun, executed with confidence and panache, largely through visual story-telling.  The style is fast-paced and energetic, reminding me of Run Lola Run with its propulsive score, intense action, and rapid-fire edits.  The style does overwhelm the substance now and then, the silly and the super-serious butting heads; the dilemma is embodied, I think, by generally effective comic book villainy from Blanchett and Tom Hollander.  Similarly, heightened reality action-adventure sometimes bumps awkwardly into gritty, more realistic violence.  But while these rough edges occasionally break the spell, they generally don’t diminish the entertainment value.

Most interesting to me about the film was Hanna herself, a unique and sympathetic character brought vividly to life.  Ronan makes a surprisingly convincing teenaged superspy, but what’s fascinating about Hanna is that she possesses so much  knowledge and ability, with no corresponding life experience.  Her adventure, then, is no hollow spectacle:  it’s her first opportunity to see the world, and to live.  Watching her wide-eyed awe at the things we take for granted is a huge part of the film’s appeal, and one of the things that sets it apart from the spy genre’s usual jaded mindset.  It brings a little something extra to the table.

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