By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
This Hanna has neither sisters nor a last name that rhymes with her first.
She’s the title character in Hanna, an action thriller/fairy tale about an only child, one Hanna Heller, a motherless 16-year-old (played by Saoirse Ronan) who has been raised in a snowy forest in northern Finland by her ex-CIA agent father Erik, played by Eric Bana.
In the film’s grabber of an opening scene, Hanna hunts a reindeer with a bow and arrow while her father simulates an enemy sneaking up behind her — to help teach her that she must always be prepared to detect and fight off attackers.
Back in their cottage, he teaches her not only self-defense skills but various subjects and languages, which he constantly quizzes her on. “Adapt or die,” he keeps telling her until she starts repeating the instructive motto herself.
For reasons not yet clear, he seems to be training her to be the perfect agent/assassin/warrior, a plot point that puts us in mind of the father-daughter dynamic in last year’s Kick-Ass. But this dad would appear to be keeping the full truth behind Hanna’s origins from her.
Meanwhile, back in the States, a CIA operative named Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett, keeps tabs on the family of two as she plots a way of getting at them.
Then one day Hanna and her dad agree that it is time for her to move on. So she sets out on her own, going on her first excursion away from her forest home.
She travels through Europe, seeing other places and things and meeting other people for the first time in her life, on her way to Berlin to reunite with her father. And as she does, Marissa, who obviously has some connection to Erik, instructs agents to pursue and do away with them both.
The full extent of Hanna’s capabilities isn’t revealed to us until, outnumbered and apparently overwhelmed, she is forced to use her amazing talents to free herself from an underground CIA facility against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Hanna is, in fact, so literally on the run on her way to Berlin, managing escape after escape at top speed that the film at times recalls Run Lola Run. “Run Hanna Run” would have been just as apt a title.
Ronan, the extraordinary young actress from Atonement and The Lovely Bones, is once again a revelation, this time as a virtual action star, showing us the changes in her cold-blooded character as she comes of age, and carrying the film for much of the time while holding her own opposite the imposing Blanchett, who is not up to her usual lofty standards and seems a trifle uncomfortable with both her role and her American southern accent.
Director Joe Wright seems on a self-conscious mission to prove his range, moving from the relative stateliness of Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist to the vigorous action of this hard-edged, propulsive thriller, which can be strangely sadistic as it callously dispenses with innocent characters along the way.
That said, Wright’s energetic, extended action sequences are expertly choreographed and absolutely gripping.
As the screenplay by David Farr and Seth Lochhead (based on Lochhead’s story) plays out, we realize that it has been mapped out as an extravagant fairy tale, with Hanna as the Cinderella/Snow White/Red Riding Hood heroine, Erik as her benefactor, and Marissa as the villain.
But we still yearn for a bit more context as the narrative unfolds.
Quite violent but appropriately so, the PG-13-rated Hanna is an unusual combo plate of genres that holds us in its sway throughout, even if it sends us home with unanswerable narrative questions.
So we’ll train 3 stars out of 4 for the three-headed Hanna, a conspiracy thriller, a surreal fable, and an invigorating exercise in Wright making might.