365 Days, 100 Films #18 – Hanna (2011)

Hanna, 2011.

Directed by Joe Wright.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng and Cate Blanchett.


Hanna is an abnormally strong and gifted, 14 year-old killing machine, and there are a few people out there who want her for themselves.

Joe Wright can sure pull off a decent long take. He had that extended, mind-boggling shot in Atonement, gliding over and across a beach of celebrating World War II Allied soldiers. The longer it went on, the more excited and tense you became, your unbelief compounding at every extra event in shot, scared that someone might break character or miss their cue and they’d have to go again from the beginning. Joe Wright’s latest, Hanna, possesses similar shots, but their impact is lessened somewhat by their number and the occasional betrayal of a CGI pixel (those odd, jerky movements in fight scenes). You can tell where they’ve stitched two takes together too, usually when the sun’s flare burns out the screen entire. They’re still very impressive though – if not for Atonement’s effort and mastery, then for sheer imagination and zest.

In all other respects, however, Hanna is quite different from Atonement. They share an actor in Saoirse Ronan (Hanna in Hanna, Briony in Atonement), but that and the long takes are about it. Hanna is a very special girl. She has extraordinary strength and reflexes, and has been groomed by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), into a survival machine from a very early age. They live in isolation in a wintry forest, heated by fire and hunting deer for food. She’s still very sweet, though. Her face is softly mouse-like, and a book of Grimm’s fairytales lies underneath her pillow alongside a photo of her murdered mother. But who murdered her mother? Why do they live like hermits? How is Hanna so strong?

These questions are slowly answered as the film progresses, but the enemy is established right from the start. Erik looks his daughter in the eye just before this wintry prelude is over and explains that a woman, Marissa (a red-haired Cate Blanchett), will not rest, or tire, until Hanna is dead.

The film is rich with quirky characters. They need their quirks otherwise they’d drown in the cast-list. There’s the manically camp German hitman, Isaacs (Tom Hollander). He whistles sinisterly and wears a full-body matching tracksuit. Constantly beside him are his two Dr. Marten’s-wearing, Ben-Sherman-shirt adorning skinhead henchman. Marissa, who employs the help of Isaacs, shows her obsessive character not in dialogue or intense stares to camera, but by the immaculately stored selection of high-heeled shoes in her room, and the way she brushes her teeth until her gums bleed. One character, Hanna’s grandmother, we only meet very briefly, yet her personality is stored within a few minute actions. As she sits opposite Marissa in her apartment room, knowing that death shortly awaits, she carefully sweeps a few crumbs on the table into her cupped hand to place them neatly on a plate. This woman’s last thoughts are to tidy up breakfast. You show, you don’t tell. It’s a good rule for Directors to go by.

The film’s visual metaphors are heavy, but they work in a post-modern comic book way. One scene shows Erik walking through an airport. It’s one of those extended, single take shots, and the longer it goes on, the more people we realise are tracking him. As Erik becomes aware of his shadows, he passes a few sunglasses billboards on the walls behind him that show five-foot high eyes. It’s giddily self-conscious. There’s probably a lot more of those tucked away in the film. Second viewings should be recommended somewhere on your receipts.

The Chemical Brothers provide the film’s dub-steppy musical score, which works well with the underground comic book mood. The sound design overall, in fact, is sublime. The crackling heat of a waffle iron, and the muffled voices in a room next door could set up a scene with your eyes closed.

You can compare Hanna with Kill Bill and Leon, but really you’re only making a list of female assassin films. In tone and stylistics, Hanna is far more similar to Run, Lola, Run. They share a fondness for the same neon coloured hair and ridiculous editing pace, only that 90s, VHS fuzz is replaced with a much crisper lens. Perhaps the film could have done with more of a climax, and its release of information could have been handled better, but everything is far too fun and absurd for anyone to seriously complain.

Oli Davis

365 Days, 100 Films

Movie Review Archive

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09770065693345181702 Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I reviewed this one last month – art house meets action flick. Very original – I like it!