Saturday, 18 June 2011

Film Review: Hanna

When dealing with any espionage thriller nowadays it's difficult not to draw comparisons to the Bourne trilogy. Indeed, what Fleming did for the spy genre in the twentieth-century, Bourne did in the twenty-first. Salt and Unknown are just two recent examples to have borrowed heavily from Jason Bourne, and the latest effort comes from British director Joe Wright in the form of Hanna, a 16-year old heroine who has unfinished business with that monolithic entity known as the CIA.

Hanna (Ronan) lives with her father, Erik, (Bana) somewhere in the barren Arctic Circle. She is raised by him to be a super-deadly assassin in order to one day reek vengeance on the CIA agent, Marissa (Blanchett), who killed her mother. When Hanna decides she's 'ready' to take the fight to Marissa, all hell breaks loose.

Hanna differs from Bourne in one key regard. When Hanna discovers a CIA test report declaring her DNA 'abnormal', the substratal current of the film suggests she's not just your average neck-snapping teenage girl. Where Bourne is searching for who he is, Hanna is searching for what. Ronan does well in her performance of an eerie, luminous girl-who-fell-to-earth. Taught of the modern world only through an encyclopedia, there is something captivating watching Hanna experience modern conveniences such as electricity in childlike wonder. Hanna's locations are specifically chosen to represent Hanna's own spiritual journey through the world. From a sterile deep underground CIA base, Hanna is thrust into the basking sunlight of Morocco where her journey begins. Her wonderment with a world she's never seen before, like childhood, is short lived as she soon realises there are elements out to get her. The scenery runs parallel to Hanna's development, ultimately ending in an ashen Berlin theme park styled to the children's fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, thus signalling her exit from childhood. There is no subtlety in Hanna's emblem of puberty, but it works.

Fortunately, Ronan has a strong supporting cast. Bana brings a soulful presence to the screen, clearly haunted by his involvement in all this ancient agency business. There is also a fantastic sustained tracking sequence where Bana's Erik dispatches four CIA goons in an underground passage which makes a refreshing change to ordinarily choreographed action events. Blanchett is effective as the cold-hearted bitch with balls, imperious and thoroughly unpleasant to the point of camp villainy. But this is a strength of the movie rather than a detriment.

Indeed, director Joe Wright flirts with the absurd, creating a backdrop of CIA malfeasance set against sadistic bleach-blonde, burlesque-owning Germans and a kooky middle-class bohemian British family on holiday. But it is Wright's ability to balance the nuttiness with the serious which makes for a surprisingly engrossing, convincing and even compelling tale. Yes, Hanna is a coming-of-age story, but it also breathes fresh air into the action-espionage genre.