‘Hanna’ movie review: Saoirse Ronan in a pulpy teen assassin saga

In Hanna, director Joe Wright takes an unlikely premise – a teenage assassin entering society for the first time – and tells it in disarmingly straightforward fashion, littering the road with a number of subtle pop culture references, dark humor, and just a slightly twisted sensibility. What could have easily slipped into absurd self-parody is instead a first-rate thriller and one of early 2011’s most pleasant surprises.

The film begins in the wilderness of Finland with Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) declaring to her father that she’s ready to enter society. Hanna, you see, has been raised in complete isolation by Erik (Eric Bana) since her mother was killed when she was an infant. But dad has taught her well: she knows most world languages, rattles off encyclopedic passages verbatim, possesses elite survival skills, and can even best her ex-CIA operative father in hand-to-hand combat.

Erik begrudgingly accepts that his daughter is ready to fly the coop, and wastes no time sending her on her very first mission: to eliminate ‘the witch,’ CIA agent Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), who was supposedly responsible for the death of Hanna’s mother. Once Hanna completes her mission, she sends word back to her father to reunite in Germany.

Only problem: the Weigler Hanna takes care of is an imposter. The real Weigler sets her sights on the now-exposed Erik, and sends frightening German sociopath Isaacs (Tom Hollander) after Hanna, who is now accompanying a ‘normal’ British family (mom and dad are played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) to Germany.

Coming off Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and (the underrated) The Soloist, Hanna is something of a departure for director Wright; instead of a weighty awards-skewing drama, this is pulpy pop entertainment akin to Tarantino or William Monahan’s (vastly) underrated London Boulevard.

His handling of the material, however, is superb: Hanna is an intense ride. The scripting is tight and efficient, and while Wright allows time for eccentricities to seep in, he never overstays his welcome; pacing may waver, but the suspense never lags. Action scenes are exemplary: clear, concise, and cohesive, the audience is always aware of the characters and their surroundings.

After working with Wright (twice now), Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones), and Peter Weir (The Way Back), young actress Ronan is quickly building an impressive resume. She’s terrific here, carrying the film as effortlessly she did the first half of Atonement, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, with Bana and Blanchett particularly effective as the dueling forces competing over Hanna. Hollander, best known, perhaps, for his bland British villain in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is downright scary as the bleach-blonde German Isaacs.

Original music by The Chemical Brothers is a highlight; it may take some getting used to (like Daft Punk’s work on Tron: Legacy, it’s not your typical film score) but both livens up the material and works on its own level, independent of the rest of the film.

Only gripe: as with many thrillers, credibility is sometimes strained. But allow for some suspension of disbelief, and you’re likely to have a good time here.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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