The title character is one heck of a viciously deadly weapon. She may be a teenaged girl, but her agility and attack skills are nothing short of astounding. However, much like the film that tells her story, she's not perfect. In fact, on more than one occasion during the film, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) says "Just missed your heart," after having attempted to kill a target yet just barely missing that pivotal organ. Interestingly enough, that line can easily be applied to the film's quality: it JUST misses its heart. There are times at which the film comes close to having one, but there's never enough back-story or character evolution in order for that to happen. If you're perfectly happy with watching a crisp, stylish, entertaining action film with a few impressive performances, you'll likely think HANNA is a great movie. But if you're more of a nitpicker like me and you like to be able to feel something other than the excitement of the action sequences, then you'll think HANNA deserves only the mild recommendation that I'm choosing to give it here.
The opening scenes manage to be both intriguing and mechanical at the same time. The young girl is living in the woods with Erik (Eric Bana), who has apparently given her all the physical and mental training she needs to become a deadly attack viper. On the one hand, these scenes work because it's easy to become interested in finding out why this girl is leading such a different life than most other people her age, but at the same time, much like the place in which these scenes are set in, it all feels very cold and detached. Of course, though, one hopes that, after the first 15 minutes or so, we'll finally start getting some emotional meat here. The answer is that we KIND OF get it, but it's more like we get scraps of it, rather than the full dish that we deserve.
A big part of why things get a lot better after HANNA's opening sequence has to do with Cate Blanchett's pure delight of a villainous performance. In case you've been hiding out in a forest your entire life and didn't know this, this is an actress who loses herself in every role, and the results of that here are terrific. We find out that Blanchett's character, Marissa, was responsible for killing Hanna's mother, which is why Hanna has now been unleashed into the civilized world: to find the evil witch and kill her. One of the best aspects of HANNA comes about when the title character meets up with a family of four and develops a special friendship with Sophie (Jessica Barden), a girl who, despite being Hanna's age, couldn't be more different from our heroine. Sophie's first remarks to Hanna (which involve a comparison between Hanna and singer MIA) are absolutely hilarious, and starting at that point, we already know that this will be a terrific secondary character. The relationship between Hanna and Sophie eventually veers into something you may or may not expect during a particularly tender scene that turns out to be one of the film's better moments.
But Blanchett is still the biggest attraction here. There is an excellently edited sequence in which her character, a cunning CIA agent, is interrogating several people separately. The greatness of this sequence is due to how Marissa changes her attitudes and her questioning approaches depending on who she's talking to. Pure wickedness has never been more enjoyable than when we watch her manipulate a young boy into giving her the information she needs.
One of the reasons why HANNA is a generally effective film is, of course, the "fish out of water" element. Hanna lived secluded in the forest her entire young life, and is now being exposed to an entirely new world. This becomes palpable when she starts interacting with Sophie and the rest of her family (and the disorientation from both sides as they get to know each other is handled very nicely and often even humorously). But there's a great moment early on in the film that ONLY Hanna is involved in, and it takes place when she enters a motel room and is suddenly completely confused by all the electronics: she's put off by the tea kettle, she tries using the remote control to turn off a fan, etc. This is an excellent way of depicting just how different our world is from that of people who live completely shut off from it... and, well, I WOULD praise this element of the film more if it weren't for a tragic inconsistency towards the end, which involves Hanna suddenly being capable of working with a computer and performing an Internet search. Some plot holes are forgivable, but I find this one to be way too significant.
As I said, and as I'm sure you expect, the action sequences are pretty cool, though you shouldn't expect anything of KILL BILL caliber, or even anything as terrific as what Hit Girl accomplished when she kicked ass last year. The film's score is constantly good and occasionally great during the action scenes. One side note, though, is that I find it kind of ridiculous that, when people usually review films and comment on the musical score, they just talk about the score and move on without mentioning who is responsible for it, because, well, it's usually just a boring name. But since people think the name of the team responsible for HANNA's score is "cool" or whatever, there's a spree of reviews that have decided to mention them, and I would bet all the money I have that a bunch of people who are mentioning the team's name hadn't even heard of that musical duo before they checked HANNA's credits. So, as a form of rebellion and to criticize those who have done this, I will NOT be mentioning the name here, but I'll still recognize that their contribution to some of HANNA's scenes is at times pretty terrific. My point is... please give EQUAL credit to everyone, even if their name is as boring as, well, John Williams.
This is the second time that young actress Saoirse Ronan is paired up with director Joe Wright. There's no doubt that ATONEMENT and HANNA aren't really comparable films, since they're so different, but there's no doubt about the effectiveness of this pair. Ronan has an unmistakably tough task being on screen during most of the running time, and while she may not be as searing here as she was in her Oscar-nominated turn in ATONEMENT's first act, she's still very good. One quibble I did have while watching HANNA is that the camera is awfully obsessed with Ronan's piercing blue eyes - as effective as it may be to have a few close-ups of her eyes, it eventually gets tiring and repetitive, because there are too many of them. But that's not Ronan's fault. Like I said, though, the big slice of the acting praise here definitely goes to Blanchett, who gives a teeth-chattering performance. Oh, and speaking of teeth... well... I won't spoil it for you. :)
HANNA may not be the ravishing cinematic accomplishment that ATONEMENT was, but then again, it never really intends to be. It takes advantage of the apparent obsession (and fetish for some, I suspect) of watching young girls violently kick ass on screen, but it milks that obsession effectively, without ever entering gratuitous territory. The film's lackings in the "heart" department may keep it from being more than just good, but for those who don't mind that all too much, this should prove an entertaining ride.