Hanna US 2011
Directed by Joe Wright
Playing at cinemas now.
Caution: There are NO real spoilers on this one but I should probably warn you up front that... if you don’t like the current trend for filming absolutely everything in shades of blue and orange, you might want to give this movie a miss... I’d advise you not to though... it’s really excellent.
Hanna tells the story of a sixteen year old girl called... um... Hanna (played absolutely impeccably by Saoirse Ronan) who has been living in the snowy wilderness with her guardian, Erik (thoughtfully played by Eric Bana), for the majority of her life. She has been leading a life of hardship and lacking in the normal luxuries that you and I take for granted (like the beauty of music) and Erik has been training her in all the essential skills of survival and combat for the day when she becomes, like Erik, A Jason Bourne-like killing machine in order to invade the civilised world and kill Marissa (the always wonderful Cate Blanchett) who was the woman who killed Hanna’s mother when she was just a little girl.
That’s your basic set up and that’s as much as I’m going to tell you about specific elements of the story. There’s not a lot you won’t see coming but that doesn’t really matter on this particular piece of action-thriller celluloid. It’s more about the journey of one person and the peripheral damage created by her passing through the lives of others. Friends and foes alike do tend to get pretty f*cked up in her wake... often without her even noticing this unfortunate trend.
You might say that this movie is a patchwork quilt of Nikita and The Bourne Identity and there are certainly elements of those movies to be found in Hanna. Cate Blanchett is very much a more “hands on” version of the Brian Cox character in those movies and if she comes across as a little bit of a broad villain, much as she did in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I think she can be forgiven this since the genre elements used to tell the story almost beg for the kind of larger-than-life characterisation that she chooses to inject into this character. The coldness behind her eyes is almost freezing.
And coldness is almost a key motif for the movie as a whole. The film starts off in a sequence in the snow with Hanna hunting a deer and the rest of the film seems to take this sequence as a template of sorts with absolutely beautiful and very cleanly composed cinematography (it looks like something directed by either Kieslowski or Hartley) which mostly uses frosty shades of blue or cooled down oranges or a combination of both on screen sometimes... such as when Hanna is escaping her captors/pursuers through an almost maze like building in dull, neutralised colours but wearing cool orange clothing which, although quite toned down in itself, makes for a nice contrast with her immediate environment without warming the shots up too much and retaining that theme of frostiness throughout the whole movie. Even when, in some sequences, some greens and reds and yellows are brought into the general mix to “rock the palette” as it were, the overall effect is still mostly one of stark neutrality and this is also echoed in the attitudes of the main characters throughout the course of the movie.
I’ve talked about Cate Blanchett’s steely, cold exterior which she uses to highlight the professional ruthlessness of her character... this also is to be found in Eric Bana’s character in a lot of the sequences and he only really warms up when he’s sharing screen-time with the title character.
The real contrast in tone is, perhaps, Hannah herself, who is forced to fly solo and make her own way in the world... she too has a very frosty exterior but it clearly holds a very warm, beating heart and it becomes apparent as Hanna “makes friends” that the ice and frost in her killing-machine exterior is as much about the realities of her hermit like existence and detachment from a social milieu more than anything else. And there are some beautiful sequences which highlight the chaos, confusion and adrenalin filled underside of her character, one which involves her freaking out over the abundance of electrically powered consumer items and another as she is escaping her would be captors/killers... where the camerawork and editing style just go completely mad... as though the camera-eye is just giving up for a moment on the cleanliness and coolness of the mise-en-scene and just throwing its hands up in the air to give the viewer a crazy collage of aggressively shifting visual psychedelic riffs on the films environment... with the camera actually spiralling about 360º in one instance. This is a actually a very dynamic film where the tension and release nature of the atmosphere is very much controlled but can also “get rowdy” on the viewer very quickly if it needs to push an emotional point.
The tension and suspense is wrought from every shot, ably supported by a likeable score composed by some people called The Chemical Brothers (?), but these sequences of tension are regularly released by the odd burst of broad humour or an orgy of violent action cinema not dissimilar to anything Besson has been producing over the last few years. This is a film which will pull you in and not let you go until it’s created a smorgasbord of emotional highs and lows by pitching the intensly grim plot of the movie against a sense of playfulness and beauty... whether you like this film or not, you’re certainly unlikely to be bored by it.
And then there’s the ending. This film has one of those perfect endings that rarely come up. Without giving anything away there’s a beautiful symmetry to this film which is derived from the set up in a way that means you will know, roughly 3 or 4 minutes before it happens, what both the last line and the last “shot” of this film will be. There’s a poetic quality to the end sequence and a haunting premonition of events in a tangible form which informs the audience of the metaphor it’s about to witness... the film just has to end this way... and it does.
I’m not going to say anymore on this one right now except that if you like cinema in general then Hanna kind of has the feel of a French action thriller filtered through a Polish camera lens and an American Independent sensibility while still, I suspect, playing for a mass audience. And that’s probably not a bad thing to aim for really... all things considered.