"Hanna" a Crisp Thriller With Virtuoso Filmmaking and Retro Politics

Hanna tells a tech-savvy fairy tale, replete with a wicked witch, uncertain parentage, and chop-socky mixed martial arts. Yet despite its 21st-century trappings and proto-feminist protagonist, Hanna strangely reverts to reactionary politics as usual.

When we first meet 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, a Tilda Swinton in training who trafficks in translucent skin and opaque emotions), she's a fierce huntress and winter warrior. She disembowels woodland beasts in between staged fisticuffs with her bearded and befurred father, Erik (Eric Bana, a reliably soulful slice of beefcake). Stuck in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, she knows nothing of the larger world except for whatever paranoid Papa has taught her. Since even home-schooled ninjas have to grow up, Erik concedes to unearthing a long-hidden device that, if activated, will alert civilization — including avenging CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) — to their whereabouts. Hanna chooses the inevitable, prompting Erik to shave and flee in a pinstriped three-piece suit while special ops abducts his daughter. But it doesn't take Hanna long to escape a tricked-out underground lair, snapping necks, bludgeoning faces, and embarking on a grim journey of self-discovery and self-defensive homicide.

For Hanna's breakneck subterranean emergence, texture and tension are created not through Ginsu editing but through sculptural, strobe-like overhead lighting, as in an Exploding Plastic Inevitable show or a Mazda commercial. In one knockout standalone sequence, the film tracks Erik and a mysterious follower into and out of a train depot, across a plaza, and down a metro escalator before he dispatches four marauding goons, all in one elegant long take.

Hanna, a fierce huntress and winter warrior.
Alex Bailey
Hanna, a fierce huntress and winter warrior.

But it's telling that such virtuosity is inconsequential to the larger story. Despite its handsome presentation and cinematic ingenuity, the film never really goes beyond superficial pleasures. Hanna's origin story isn't revealed until the end (via a supremely anti­dramatic Wikipedia search, no less), which keeps her estranged from us as well as from herself; whenever the disarmingly poised Ronan manages to narrow the gap, she's briskly undone by yet another blippy Chemical Brothers-scored chase sequence. But better to march forth than dwell on the dubious conservatism that undergirds the tale.

Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a baddie recruited to hunt down Hanna, is evil embodied as deviant gay Eurotrash, complete with bleached-blond hair, brightly colored tracksuits, short-shorts, and loafers worn lightly. And though Blanchett is a riot as a Nordstrom-attired, Southern-drawled Brunhilde with scarlet helmet hair and aggressively white teeth, what ultimately makes her so harrowing — and so worthy of punishment — is her childlessness. "I made certain choices," Marissa says, desperately justifying her careerism. Hanna is the one who got away and a genetically enhanced reminder of the miserable fate that awaits the ambitious, the infertile, the dentally preoccupied.

The fairy-tale signifiers are piled on for a Berlin-set finale, from a dingy gingerbread house and Big Bad Wolf amusement ride to witchy Marissa's screeching demise. In terms of craft and invention, Hanna has more going for it than most Hollywood genre films, but its achievements only magnify disappointment when it all builds to nothing more than a callback catch phrase. "I just missed your heart," Hanna says to her first and final conquests. Missed mine too, if only just.

 
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