Review: Hanna (2011)

Hanna is a confident blending of thriller and fairy tale conventions. It’s deliberately lighter fare from director Joe Wright, best known for literary adaptations, Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). That’s not to say it’s silly — it’s not, although it easily could’ve been considering the subject matter — but that it is not trying to be a heavyweight Oscar contender like Wright’s other work. Luckily, Wright’s talent for literary adaptations carries over to the thriller genre, and he is again able to deliver a technically impressive film with excellent acting. The film is essentially a fairy tale where the princess (Saoirse Ronan) is a skilled killer, her dedicated parent (Eric Bana) is a retired assassin, and the evil stepmother is a wicked CIA agent bent on killing them both (Cate Blanchett). There’s little to the plot beyond Hanna leaving the forest, coming to terms with the world, and having to fend off the bad guys sent by Blanchett’s Morissa Viegler. That the film is as entertaining and sleek and funny as it is without being silly is a testament to the strength of its actors. They all play the material straight-faced, and the lack of any coy winking at the camera saves the story from any possible absurdity.

Ronan gives yet another excellent performance which makes a claim for her being the best young actor working today. Bana’s and Blanchett’s characters are quite one-note, as are most of the film’s characters despite Hanna — remember, we are dealing with a fairly tale here — but they’re great actors and they inject their roles with humanity, bringing genuine stakes to their performances. Especial praise has to be given to newcomer Jessica Barden playing a British girl Hanna befriends on her journey. She brings plenty of humour and honesty to the role, stealing all of her scenes and giving the film’s most memorable performance in a film full of many good performances.

Hanna’s cinematography is crisp and innovative — we should expect nothing less from Wright. The score by the Chemical Brothers is memorable and unique, blending well with the subject matter and highlighting the action sequences. In particular, the scene in which Hanna escapes from her underground CIA prison set to the Chemical Brothers thundering bass and electric grooves is one of the film’s many good action scenes made all the better by the musical score.

All in all, Hanna is a good thriller. Most filmmakers nowadays are content to do conventional stories in conventional ways. Thus, Hanna’s innovative take on the conventions of the fairy tale and the thriller is rare and refreshing. The acting is uniformly excellent. The action is electric. Unfortunately, when dealing with fairy tales there is a certain superficiality that is hard to avoid. Hanna is content with remaining somewhat superficial, and while there’s no intrinsic flaw in that, its shallowness keeps it from being anything more than a good movie. But being merely a good movie is nothing to scoff at since so few thrillers nowadays can achieve what Hanna does so effortlessly: deliver competent, innovative entertainment.

Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright; written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr; starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett.

7 out of 10