Details: (M), 111 mins, In Cinemas 28 July 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: Raised by her ex-CIA father in the wilds of Finland, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is brought up to be an assassin. When sent on a mission, she is pursued across Europe by a secret agents. As she nears her target, Hanna is exposed to a different world and forced to confront her own humanity.
Girl power goes gaga.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Clare Stewart elected to open her last festival as director with Hanna, a crazed and crazy theme-park ride action movie from Atonement filmmaker Joe Wright that references everything from Leon to the Bourne pics to Grimm’s fairytales. It’s full of action, and quite a few dead spots, and at first it seems to make little sense. Since it appears to be made under the sign of Luc Besson, with its mix of baroque stylings, heaving sentiment and savagery (and a body count that would make John Woo think twice), to complain about a lack of narrative and thematic lucidity is pointless. Here’s a Euro spy pursuit movie where the filmmakers have censored all plausibility. It’s a movie myth construct, seemingly deliberately unsubtle and even silly. That’s part of its fun. Still, from the, apparently, uncomfortable chortles rippling out of the first night audience, quite a few punters didn’t appreciate its wit or its sensibility. But then Besson is arguably an acquired taste.
And to be sure, Hanna’s filmmaking is a weird mix of Bond bombast, art movie atmospherics and girl-power thematics. On a superficial level, it seems incongruous. Still, if you can accept the film’s premise, the style does ultimately make a kind of sense. After all this is a film about an innocent child trapped in a kind of madhouse (a madhouse a la Alice Through the Looking-Glass which has only a passing resemblance to the real world).
The plot is a riff on the rogue CIA killing machine scenario. Here, it’s a teenage girl, Hanna. As played by Saoirse Ronan, she’s not only adept at snapping necks and plunging the knife but so guileless at times you feel like reaching into the screen to give her a hug. Raised in the frozen wastes of Finland by her father Erik (Eric Bana), an ex CIA op, Hanna, we learn, has been isolated from civilisation and knows nothing much of everyday domestic technology. (She finds fluro lighting transfixing but in a move typical of this movie’s cavalier approach to cause and effect logic she adapts to a PC web search with complete ease.)
Hanna is being trained for a mission that we soon find out has a lot to do with Marissa, another CIA bogey played by Cate Blanchett as if she were channelling a Tennessee Williams girl-drag with Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf. If that sounds snide, consider: screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr have given Marissa not only a shoe fetish but also a dental hygiene kink. Marissa likes to brush her till they bleed. Precisely what that means I’m not sure, but it’s creepy to watch, and I suspect that’s the point. Blanchett’s performance appears over the top, but she’s a smart and brilliant actor, and that choice actually pays off. Marissa needs to be ‘big’ just to compete with the CIA sets (conference rooms, underground bunker complex). They’re so bizarre, and oversized it’s as if Wright and his team are not only paying tribute to a century of spy movies fantasies but also Pink Floyd The Wall. Anyway, Marissa becomes the ‘wicked stepmother’, which makes Hanna, the little girl who has ‘strayed’. But in an irony the film clearly relishes, it’s soon apparent that it’s Marissa who’s strayed.
Meanwhile, Hanna hitches her way from Morocco (don’t ask) to Germany with an English hippie family and she befriends a girl her own age in the process, Sophie (Jessica Barden), which gives the film the chance to play with some ‘fish out of water’ gags. For instance, Sophie and Hanna double date. When Hanna’s fella tries to kiss her she nails him good and nearly breaks his back in the process.
Hanna is full of incidental pleasures; Alwin Kuchler’s cinematography has a hard sheen and the Chemical Brothers score pounds in the all the right places and the action is staged with a satisfying grunt and a feel for violence that’s disturbing (and actually pays off for Hanna’s character).
It’s possible to make too much of the fairytale references Hanna plays with. For the most part, they are sly ‘quotes’, suggestive teases, and totally superficial. Much more successful is the way Hanna becomes a film fairytale of its own, where understanding its literary roots are an irrelevancy. Hanna’s charm lies in its mood, a feeling that ‘anything can happen’. It’s got its own twisted logic in dealing with big feelings and big questions: good and bad, right and wrong, trust, and mother-love. It’s the kind of film where its charm lies in the feeling that it’s seemingly ill-fitting parts only fall into place long after it’s over.
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