'Hanna' a very cool film

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011

By Chris Jenness

Ap Photo/Focus Features, Alex Bailey
Ap Photo/Focus Features, Alex Bailey
In this film publicity image released by Focus Features, Saoirse Ronan is shown in a scene from "Hanna."

Reeling It In

"Hanna"

Ardustry Entertainment

1 hour, 51 minutes

"Hanna," this week's revenge thriller about a genetic experiment gone wrong, reads kind of like a "Bourne Identity" for the Justin Bieber set. Cute little blondie kicks butt all over Europe while trying to reunite with her super-spy dad, played by Eric Bana. That description is perfectly accurate, and completely misses the mark. Saoirse Ronan's Hanna, far from being a teeny-bopper, is just about the last person you'd want to run into in a dark alley, and the film brings all her menace and danger to bear with powerful, if quiet, ferocity. I was very impressed by this movie.

The story opens on a silent dusk in the wilds of some snowbound, winter forest. Having seen the trailer and read a little about the film, I knew something about what I was seeing, but it made me a little jealous of the moviegoer who just wanders into this show with no foreknowledge whatsoever. For the first five minutes or so, we have no context as to time period or location -- a lone hunter stalks a deer with a primitive looking bow and arrow. She's clad in furs and has the extreme pale complexion of either a Nordic inhabitant or an albino. She fires, and pursues her dying quarry across a frozen pond. It's only the sudden appearance of a small German handgun that jolts us into the present. This scene also introduces us to our heroine. Intelligent, extremely capable, with a tendency toward empathy, but without even the slightest hesitation. Hanna is, in a word, tough.

Soon we are introduced to Erik, played by Bana, and we learn that he has taken his daughter to hide here in the wilderness and to educate her from a World Book Encyclopedia, giving her broad knowledge, with very little depth. Hanna is locked away from the world, but she really has very little concept as to what that world is. Only that it is dangerous. And dangerous it is, especially for Erik and Hanna, who, it turns out, are hiding from Marissa, a high level deputy in the Central Intelligence Agency who wants the two erased from the earth.

Marissa, played picture perfect by Cate Blanchett, may be extraordinarily tough and resourceful herself, but what she doesn't realize is that Erik has prepared his daughter with more than just information on the gross national product of Sweden -- he's trained her to kill, and one woman in particular. When Hanna, straining at the bounds of her isolated cabin in the woods, finally convinces her father to let her go to the city, it's only with the stipulation that they face their adversary head-on. What follows is a remarkable set of adventures -- a thrilling chase across the continent and some of the best fight scenes I've seen in a long time.

Hanna is no automaton, and doesn't play a strange mix of adult in child's body -- she's definitely a kid, but when she's backed into a corner, or diverted from her goal, watch out.

"Hanna" is very cool, for a number of reasons. For one, it's an action movie with a very real artistic sensibility. The direction is masterful and the cinematography is gorgeous. Not only are the scenes pretty, but often otherworldly, giving us a view of the world from Hanna's perspective.

Director Joe Wright, known for arty dramas like "Atonement," "The Soloist," and "Pride and Prejudice," implements long tracking shots and thrilling choreography to elevate this film beyond just a typical "Bourne" knock-off. One of the most striking elements of the movie, however, is the score, and it took me completely off-guard. The soundtrack is by a group called The Chemical Brothers and, at first, I was a little irritated. It's strange and kind of reminiscent of early eighties experimental music by people like Yanni or Vangelis. It's interesting at first, but doesn't age well. Try and re-watch "Ladyhawke" and tell me I'm wrong.

But after a while, the music changes, grows, and moves with the story. Hanna, though she knows the concept of music, has never heard it before, and the alien nature of the sounds she's hearing are both beautiful and completely unfamiliar. How often have you heard music that was completely unfamiliar -- that wasn't referencing anything you were used to? Not all the music in the film is like that, but some is, and it's quite an experience.

Ronan, who we know from "The Lovely Bones" most recently, is a great little actress. She has a certain quality that I think will help her from falling prey to the Hollywood machine that chews up pretty young actresses and spits them out leaving behind wrecks like Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus. She's pretty, yes, but also a little odd looking. She's also got either good management or good sense, choosing to work with powerful creatives like Peter Jackson and on prestige projects like "Atonement" and Peter Weir's "The Way Back." It's rumored that she's going to be in the forthcoming "Hobbit" movies, and if so, she can look forward to at least another few years of major success.

"Hanna" is kind of a small movie, one that was on very few people's radar, but has jumped to fourth in the box-office tally in its second week in release. This may be one of those sleeper hits that, as more people demand it, it'll make its way into more theaters. I saw it in Anchorage, but keep your eyes out, "Hanna" may be sneaking into a local theater before you know it.

Grade: A

"Hanna" is rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality, and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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