Directed by: Joe Wright || Produced by: Leslie Holleran, Marty Adelstein, Scott Nemes
Screenplay by: Seth Lochhead, David Farr || Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden, Aldo Maland, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Michelle Dockery, Vicky Krieps, Martin Wuttke, Sebastian Hulk, Mohammed Majd
Music by: The Chemical Brothers || Edited by: Paul Tothill || Cinematography: Alwin H. Kuchler || Country: Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Finland || Language: English
Running Time: 111 minutes
Having been a fan of Saoirse Ronan in both Brooklyn (2015) and Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), I was pleased to stumble across one of her earlier, more enigmatic “origin stories” in Hanna, a modern spy-thriller twist on the archetypal coming-of-age story, with more than a few fairy tale allusions sprinkled throughout. Joe Wright, director of notable English romances such as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007, also starring Ronan), pulls out all the cinematographic stops from director of photography Alwin H. Kuchler in what is arguably his most charismatic directorial effort to date. A bouncing soundtrack from the English electronic duo, The Chemical Brothers, only adds to this film’s unique tonal flavor.
Hanna is doused in jarring smash cuts and hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of a Tarantino pulp narrative, the dark humor and musical personality of a Kubrickian fable, and the surrealist, dreamlike tone of a David Lynch feature. The film is nothing if not stylish, with Kuchler’s spinning cameras and Paul Tothill’s abrasive edits drawing attention to themselves over and over, as consistently as Ronan’s off-beat protagonist does with her constant culture-shock and lethal martial arts training. Whether the film is truly “family-friendly” is up for debate — the film’s action sequences are not doused in blood and gore, but they are violent, and the fairy tale touches feel more nightmarish than comforting — but at the end of the day, Hanna succeeds as a unique breed of character maturation (aka coming of age), a story formula as old as storytelling itself.
The light science-fiction premise deals with the CIA genetically engineering infants to create super-soldiers, of which Ronan is one that father-figure and former agent Eric Bana rescues and raises in secrecy. The story follows Ronan and Bana’s reintroduction into society as they seek to take down the villainous CIA operative (a seedy Cate Blanchett) behind the genetic engineering program, who in turn seeks to eliminate them as loose ends.
This story, on paper, is rather straightforward despite the notable premise, but its execution is anything but. At numerous points, screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr halt the story to allow Ronan to soak up her social surroundings and revel in the awkwardness of, well, growing up. The ultimate thematic “point” of the movie concerns these clashes of genetics, her step-father’s upbringing, and modern society as much as the espionage-tale of Ronan’s fight against Blanchett. Dark humor abounds from Blanchett’s twisted henchman (Tom Hollander, another Joe Wright regular) to Ronan’s comically violent reactions to everyday social etiquette, and The Chemical Brother’s electronic lullaby-hybrid soundtrack only adds to this sardonic tone.
Audiences’ reactions to Hanna will vary based on one’s tolerance for genre-blenders, tonal consistency, and loud editing. The more you like films in the vein of Tremors (1990), Ghostbusters (1984), Gremlins (1984), or Krampus (2015), the more you’ll enjoy Hanna; Hanna isn’t as good as any of those films, but it’s every bit as ambitious and memorable, if somewhat less precise with its genre-fusion. My only major complaints with it have to do with its underuse of a few supporting characters (namely the vacationing English family with whom Ronan bonds during her escape), and the abruptness of the movie’s ending (one area where its smash cuts didn’t pay off). I’m well aware many folks are not as inclined to this weird, off-kilter genre-concoction as myself, and to that end, with various pacing problems in addition to the aforementioned lack of narrative closure, Hanna may not convert many.
That being said, Hanna is a spy-thriller with heart and style to spare. Its aesthetic touches and effective choreography are matched only by its characters’ emotional resonance and lead performances. Its larger editing and tonal inconsistencies notwithstanding, Hanna is a far superior coming-of-age “young adult” fantasy than anything the Harry Potter (2001-2011), Divergent (2014-2017), or Hunger Games (2012-2015) franchises ever produced.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Hanna is a competent action-thriller and OK fairy tale riff, but an exemplary coming-of-age story. Its characters are well acted and have heart, featuring bravado physical and emotional performances from Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett. The Chemical Brothers’ eclectic soundtrack is the cherry on top of this bizarro genre-blender.
— However… Hanna’s editing and ending are less consistent than its characters or action, and its use of supporting characters is lacking. A flawless combination of black comedy, action, and drama a la Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, or David Lynch this is not. It just misses the heart.