Monday, April 11, 2011


Someday, far in the future, some young whippersnapper will ask you over the hum of the Insectoid death gliders what the movies of the first and second decade of the 21st century were like.  At this point, you will have two options: go into a long winded rant about how they don't make real movies anymore and kids today are too lazy to watch them on anything but their ocular implants, or show them Hanna.

Hanna is many things, most of which I'm usually a fan of.  Its a genre film while still being smart, its an action film without being ashamed of it, its a coming of age story that doesn't feel disjointed.  It has a badass teenage girl as a protagonist.  Its a postmodern fairytale.  That last one alone is normally enough to sell me on anything, I'm a sucker for that crap.  But everything it does, someone else has done before, recently, and usually better.  But it still merited a watch, and thus, a review.

Hanna starts with our title character (played excellently by Saoirse Ronan) taking down a deer of some sort in an arctic forest with nothing but a bow, arrow, and the amazing power of being a protagonist.  Remember this scene, campers, we'll be revisiting it.  Eric Bana (also excellent) is quickly introduced, and by means of a friendly spar to the death we've already gotten to the action.  All in all, good way to start a movie.  After that, I became conflicted about the first part of the film.  On one hand, they were in the forest.  In Finland.  Nothing much going, and we do spend a decent chunk of time on it.  On the other hand, the scenery is gorgeous and shot perfectly for a sense of the awe of the place, and for me the fairy tale desire to leave home in the forest to see the wider world happens too quickly to be balanced by the sense of belonging, of actual home that anyone who had lived their whole life this way would inevitably develop to become apparent on screen, and this could have been very effective later in the film as a bittersweet reminder of how far our hero has come.  The relationship between our only two characters is explored well, if shallowly, the option to leave is given, and the film is off.  At this point, what had been a meticulously shot, almost monotone composition gives way to wildly kinetic fights and chase scenes that dominate the rest of the running time, and I have to say, its a fun transition.  Hanna herself is never allowed the breather that that she needs for us to see that she's as shocked by this as we are, so I'll just give the director (Joe Wright, previously known for Atonement and pride and Prejudice) the benefit of the doubt ans assume some 3 second reaction shot ended up on the cutting room floor.  In the aftermath, we're introduced to Cate Blanchet's character, frigid southern CIA operative #47, and a travelling British family whose surname is probably Comingofagesubplot.  Say it fast enough and with a Welsh accent, and it'd even be believable.  Hanna runs away, discovers that she's a genetically engineered super soldier, runs away, kicks some ass, runs away, has a great moment of attempting to recapture her non-existent childhood in the Grimm huse, runs away some more, has an emotional confrontation with Bana, and runs away.  Finally, in the last 3 minutes of the film, she is cornered by Blanchett walking through the least subtle piece of symbolism in recent memory, and is forced to turn the tables on her, becoming the pursuer and revisiting the first scene of the film (told you to remember it) before shooting her wicked stepmother/big bad wolf/underdeveloped cliche nemesis in the face, and then a slam cut to the title screen and we're done.  Um, okay...

Hanna has its share of problems, as a lot of more qualified reviewers have noted.  In particular, Scott Tobias lists its missed opportunities and meaninglessness at The AV Club and Eric Hynes does a great job pointing out its flaws in gender roles at The Village Voice, but what struck me most was the sheer contrast between the originality of its direction and the unoriginality of almost every aspect of its creation.  Our villain is the offbrand CIA, our teen female hero has a revenge motivation and genetic engineering backstory, and once the second is introduced seems to mix up their roles.  The Chemical Brothers soundtrack comes right on the heels of much less distracting, far superior efforts from Daft Punk and Trent Reznor.  The action is stylishly shot, but it still feels just like Bourne Jr, as do the <<MEDICAL ADVISORY FOR THOSE EASILY NAUSEOUS AND/OR THOSE THAT GO TO MOVIES DRUNK>>multiple shaky cam shots and pointless focus blurs.  The fairy tale tropes are there, but there's no meditation or deconstruction to them, which is essential when trying to tell this kind of story.  Most importantly, we miss out on the most important aspect of a fairy tale or coming of age story: watching our hero grow up.  By the end of the film, Hanna has killed a lot of people, she's learned a lot of new things, she's had experiences she never dreamed of in the forest, she's confronted her Father, she's even made and awkwardly kissed a friend.  But I can't for the life of me figure out how the girl who has been trained her whole life as a killing machine is any different in the moment she mercilessly guns down her enemy than she was in the moment she took the deer, which isn't surprising, considering she's only given a few measly minutes to turn the tables on her foes and start defining her own world like an adult.  Don't get me wrong, Hanna also does a lot right; the action is cool, the direction is truly inventive and contributes strongly to the ambient tension, and movies spent primarily running away are so common that they've stopped being unoriginal and become a genre.  But with such strong performances from Ronan and Bana, their characters should have been much better, and related to each other much more interestingly.  Ultimately, Hanna falls into the recent glut of films that think themselves smarter than they actually are, but if you're just in the mood for popcorn fun, its worth a matinee ticket.  Just go sober