With sloppy films like “Columbiana” and “Conan The Barbarian” wasting our time at the multiplexes, I feel relieved when I catch something special on DVD that I missed in the theater. Such is the case with “Hanna,” a quirky and fun action/fantasy which borrows heavily from other films but impresses with a fresh and interesting style.
Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, a spooky girl who knows every fact about the world and every language in it, but doesn’t have a shred of worldly experience. Since her infancy, her ex-superspy father (Eric Bana) has educated her in the Scandinavian wilderness, particularly in advanced survival and combat. Eager to experience the world, Hanna flips the switch on a transmitter her father warned her not to activate until she felt ready. She is quickly thrust into a hostile world where she must separate from her father to flee an insidious intelligence agent (Cate Blanchett) hell-bent on killing her.
While “Hanna” sounds similar to the recent and inferior “Columbiana,” it succeeds due to its stylish presentation, unique music and smart acting. It cribs from “Alice in Wonderland” nearly as much as “Leon: The Professional” and “Kick-Ass.” Its strange style evokes some obvious fairy-tale imagery and themes without being obnoxious or off-putting. Likewise, it feels distinctly European but is presented so expertly, even its artsy qualities are exciting.
Hanna’s side adventure, stowing away with a hippy British family, lends for some welcome comedy relief and important character development, but it ventures into a strange, sexual direction that doesn’t work with the rest of the movie. While those scenes fall into the coming-of-age genre, they are too brief and too odd to fit. Hanna herself acts so alien through most of the story, it’s hard to understand how the people she meets could possibly feel comfortable around her. The motivation of Cate Blanchett’s character to put Hanna down seem somewhat reasonable when it becomes apparent how dangerous and inhuman she actually is. However, viewers will feel a connection to her, especially when witnessing the childlike, naive way she reacts to things we take for granted like music and electricity.
The touchy-feely stuff balances out with the slick action and the incredible music. We’ve all seen films where little girls beat up huge guys with superhuman karate but those films didn’t have an original score by the recording artists known as the Chemical Brothers. It reminded me of other soundtrack/score-heavy films (like 1996’s “Trainspotting” and the 1980’s version of “Flash Gordon”) which relied on their fantastic music to set the tone of the story. I don’t know if they have a chance against the entire Hollywood motion picture music scene, but I would like to see the Chemical Brothers get an Oscar nomination for their creative work in “Hanna.”
Known mostly for his slow, prestige pictures, director Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”) easily gets the most out of his actors even under the constraints of intense action scenes. Saoirse Ronan is another one of those scary-talented teens, much like Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence, who will one day earn an Oscar win. For those who have forgotten, she had already been nominated for “Best Supporting Actress” in 2007’s “Atonement.” Eric Bana performs adeptly as usual but the interesting, odd-bird performance from Cate Blanchett oozes menace with her sly Southern accent and skill with a pocket gun.
“Hanna” was a critical hit but didn’t strike a major chord at the box office. I have a sneaking suspicion it could become a cult classic on video and possibly inspire some sequels. It’s much more than “The Bourne Identity” with a sixteen year-old girl. It showcases a new style and attitude I have never seen in a feature film before. That alone makes it worth watching.
Rating: 3½ out of 5