Hanna is a thriller that threatens to be something very different from what we’re used to. As the film opens, we’re confronted by a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who is living life in the raw in a remote forest somewhere far to the north, where reindeer are the prime prey, providing skins as well as food. Hanna hunts to survive, while prodded and tormented on by her father (Eric Bana) to exist always in a state of readiness to fend off an assassin, even when asleep. But finally, when Hanna grows old enough to want something more from life, she is given a way out. If she flicks a switch on a transmitter then her existence and her father’s will be discovered and there will be no going back. One day, with nothing else to learn, Hanna flicks that switch.
All well and good so far and these opening scenes in the forest of snow are done very well. Hanna’s lessening dependency on her father shows she is ready to venture out. But, although she speaks many languages and is fit and fast, she has never heard music and she has never seen what an electric current can do. She has never seen another child. And her mother, killed with three bullets years before, is now just a photo, kept safe within the pages of a favourite novel of Grimm Fairy Tales.
Hanna and her father Erik part ways with the goal of meeting in Berlin. Hanna is left alone in their hut to face the special forces. But this is all part of the plan. Hanna has a mission – she must kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the killer of her mother. Of course, Wiegler knows that and she has secrets of her own.
In one sense, this film is a road movie. Hanna finds herself in Morocco and she must make her way to her rendezvous in Berlin using whatever help she can, not to mention her wits. But on the journey, she discovers friendship (through Sophie – Jessica Bardem of Tamara Drewe) and learns a little about human emotions but we are never allowed to forget that Hanna is a natural born killer.
Hanna is a film of two parts. In the first we are in Finland, where an unusual girl with her unusual father metes out an existence in the harshest environment. In the second part, we follow Hanna on her journey through North Africa and Spain to Berlin and it is in this section that, for me, the film began to unravel. The stereotype of the middle class hippie family with whom Hanna tags along, for instance. As entertaining as they are, I felt that I had seen them in countless movies before and while Jessica Bardem was enjoyable, it was a repeat performance from Tamara Drewe.
There are two saving graces for Hanna, the main one of which is without doubt Saoirse Ronan. This young actress holds the film together and she can indeed carry a film. Her performance in No Way Back was superb. It’s equally fine here too. The other glory is the soundtrack. Written by the Chemical Brothers, the tracks are used with enormous skill, supplemented by some clever tricks, characters whistle along or sounds from about echo the beat and tone of the music. The camera work is choreographed by the music. Some scenes in the film are an audio visual feast because of this collaboration, enhanced by Ronan’s acting and scenery that is breathless. Also, they are a tribute to the skill of British director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice).
Don’t see Hanna for the plot, because this is a pedestrian thriller, unoriginal and plodding in places. Tom Hollander as the paid villain is amusing, as he usually is when he plays the villain, but this is not original. And neither is Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Wiegler. There were glimmers of hope in Wiegler’s moments of unease and even fear but on the whole there was no more substance in this role than there was in Blanchett’s Indiana Jones 4 baddie. Cate Blanchett, plus an ineffectual Eric Bana, spoils Hanna for me. It ruins any chance this film has to be different. Thank heavens, then, for Saoirse Ronan. For her, for the marriage of music and image, I would suggest you see Hanna.
But all the way through and even now I have one question in my mind that won’t go away – why did that switch have to be flicked?