Friday, April 8, 2011

Overkill: Joe Wright's Hanna

Saoirse Ronan as Hanna
Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) might display an abundance of skill in his new espionage action adventure thriller Hanna, but there is little in the way of sense and sensibility. Working from a script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, Wright abandons the lyricism of his earlier work for the steely visceral rush of pictures like The Professional, La Femme Nikita and Run Lola Run. But he goes at this pulpy material with such earnest intent that the movie collapses under the weight of its own artful seriousness.

The story, which has the fairy-tale overtones of Little Red Riding Hood and (more explicitly) those of Grimm's, is about the coming of age of a teenage killing machine. The 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lives alone with her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) in the remote mountains and forests of Finland. While he trains her to kill wildlife to survive, perform martial arts for self-protection, and to memorize languages for adaptability, we soon learn that this hermetic education is also to prepare her to go out into the world and kill his former CIA handler Marissa (Cate Blanchett). Years earlier, when he tried to flee the Company, Marissa took aim to stop him and killed his wife and Hanna's mother. When Hanna finally sets out to seek vengeance, she ultimately intends to lock horns with her father's nemesis.

From the opening frames where Hanna, with almost expert rigor, kills an elk, the movie puts a grip on you. But Wright's technical proficiency doesn't have the emotional breadth of the Bourne films, or the techno-punk nihilism of Luc Besson. While Hanna does have its moments of humour (when she is discovering household technology in a Moroccan village, or going medieval on a hapless young lad who wants to kiss her), there's really no playfulness in the work. Everything is as matter-of-fact as Hanna's mission. Given the movie's technical wizardry and the Chemical Brothers' relentlessly pounding electronic score, the attempts at fun end up inadvertently turning into camp instead.

Director Joe Wright
For instance, Hanna's friendship with an itinerant contemporary hippie family (led by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) roaming through Morocco seems to exist in another galaxy. Besides not recognizing that Hanna has lived a life without much human contact, their pop culture soaked daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden of Tamara Drewe) is oblivious to Hanna's near psychotic remoteness. If Hanna is dressed to kill; Sophie is in training to host eTalk. It also makes no sense for Hanna to immediately take up with this openly gabby clan especially given her innate suspiciousness. Wright also tries to provide the movie with cartoon villains working for Marissa who possess touches of the baroque, but their Euro-trash embellishments are awkwardly silly rather than blissfully sinister.

Eric Bana
As for the actors, well, for once, Eric Bana is the least of a movie's problems. While he still has his characteristic blandness, he actually grounds Hanna in the real world, giving his lines lovely touches of parental regret. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, goes to ham heaven. Blanchett is the movie's equivalent of the Big Bad Wolf, or wicked stepmother (take your pick). But she doesn't blow down any houses only her credibility. Looking like Lee Grant's Dragon Lady attorney from Albert Brooks' comedy, Defending Your Life, Blanchett can't help turning her scenes into laughable hokum. Saoirse Ronan, who was astonishingly vivid in Wright's Atonement (as well as in Gillian Armstrong's little-seen Death Defying Acts) can't do much playing a cipher in motion. As in The Lovely Bones, she becomes a pawn of the film's overwrought conception rather than a dramatic character. But because she has such a strong camera presence, Ronan still holds the film together even if it's only in the most arbitrary way.

Cate Blanchett as Marissa
I keep reading reviews saying that Hanna is a thinking-man's action picture. But what is there to think about?  Like most action fare, Hanna's depth is purely superficial. The adversarial pairing of the young female assassin, who is the child without a childhood, and the childless woman, who has denied her inner child, is textbook genre psychology rather than good exciting drama. The inventive blending of genre conventions that Joe Wright brought to Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and (the flawed) The Soloist is pared down in Hanna to simple precision. Consider this a fun machine rather than a thriller that is fun.

-- Kevin Courrier is a writer/broadcaster, film critic, teacher and author. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism. Courrier continues his lecture series on Film Noir (Roads to Perdition) in April at the Revue Cinema in Toronto. His four-part lecture series, Film Music: A Neglected Art, concludes at the JCC Prosserman on Wednesday, April 13th from 1pm-3pm.

1 comment:

  1. I will wait for the video for this one, thanks for the heads up Kevin.