Just a few days ago I was saying mean things about Angelina Jolie’s puny appearance as a supposedly kick-ass sleeper agent in Salt… but all it took for me to buy Saoirse Ronan as a super-soldier in Hanna (2011) was a few references to someone tinkering with her DNA as a baby, and a couple of training montages. What a fickle pickle I am!
For those who don’t know, this surprisingly funny action thriller stars Ronan as a teenage girl living in seclusion with her father (Eric Bana), in the wintry wilderness of Finland. Since she was a nipper, he’s been training her up as an indefatigable assassin, with one very specific target… a CIA officer named ‘Marissa Wiegler’ (Cate Blanchett), who was responsible for the death of her birth mother. One day Hanna decides she is finally “ready” to begin her mission, and their deadly plan is set in motion… but once Hannah believes she’s successfully tagged her target (actually a decoy), she finds herself having to navigate her way through our cluttered, cacophonous modern world, to rendezvous with her father. Along the way, she hitches a ride with a bohemian English family who happen to be travelling her way, unaware that Wiegler has sent her stooges to track the young girl down, and curtail her belated coming-of-age.
Apparently this film proved to be pretty divisive among genre-fans, which may explain why I was able to pick it up in a charity shop just a few months after its initial release on DVD… but, I have to say, I enjoyed every second of it. Until I looked him up on IMDb for this post, I didn’t realise that the director, Joe Wright, was also responsible for Atonement and Charles II… which means that I’ve somehow become a fan of his work without even knowing it! I can understand why some audience members may have found his overtly stylistic approach disorienting or even aggravating, but after sitting through Greenberg t’other day, I found it to be a bracing breath of fresh air. Wright brings his intelligence, sensitivity and artist’s eye to the material, serving up some stunningly beautiful, startling images and intriguing motifs, without ever undermining the kinetic energy and brutality of the action sequences. Among the most common criticisms levelled at the film, I was amused by how upset some viewers were by the scene where Hanna uses a computer to research her past, despite the fact that several scenes earlier she’d been shown to be terrified of technology in general. Personally it didn’t bother me, since her father was constantly reminding her that she needed to adapt to survive, and I just assumed that her super-DNA made her a quick study. There actually is a deleted scene on the DVD showing how the owner of the internet cafe taught her how to do a web-search, but is that really the sort of thing these viewers wanted to see on screen? A live-action adaptation of Internet for Dummies?
As for the performances, well… I think Ronan is an incredible actress, and she must have trained damn hard for this role, to be able to push herself through such physically demanding scenes in such harsh, contrasting environmental conditions… but she also plays the dramatic and comedic beats beautifully, and manages to make her character remarkably endearing, considering she’s essentially an introverted, antisocial killing machine. It’s very sweet seeing her slowly thaw around her adopted family, and try to bond with their teenage daughter ‘Sophie’, despite barely being able to follow a word of the girl’s nonsensical, slangy tabloid-fuelled babble. I thought Jessica Barden was very funny in the role, investing the cartoony caricature with some real vulnerability and soul. Olivia Williams brought her usual warmth and charm to the role of the uber-liberal, airy-fairy mother, and she had a nice bickering double-act going with Jason Flemyng, as the rather more down-to-earth father. Meanwhile, Blanchett looked disturbingly like Dana Scully’s evil twin, and played the wily Wiegler with a deceptive, wolfish sincerity. Having just seen the trailers for the second series of his sitcom, Rev, it was rather jarring to see Tom Hollander swapping his “benign bumbler” routine for a role as a campy, menacing German hitman here! Have to say, he did a damn fine job though.
In an ideal world, this film would have laid the foundation for a franchise, so we could look forward to another instalment of Hanna’s adventures every couple of years. I mean, where there’s one secret super-soldier breeding programme, there have to be others, right? Toss in Juno Temple as her older, more experienced frenemey/nemesis (frenemesis?), and you’ve got yourself a trilogy right there!
[Written whilst listening to the awesome soundtrack, which was composed by The Chemical Brothers. I’m not normally a fan of instrumentals and/or electronic music, but I dug what they did here… Wright really knows how to make his film sound as good as they look!]