I know one couldn’t tell from ole GitM here, which continues in its recent state of languish — hopefully not for much longer! — but the Easter holidays (and accompanying congressional recess) have finally given me a chance to catch up on some of the movies I’ve missed in recent weeks. First on the block, Joe Wright’s stylish spy thriller Hanna, a reasonably entertaining cross between Run Lola Run and one of the Bourne movies, with a splash of True Grit.
Hanna has some pacing issues for sure — The film peaks in its first forty minutes, and the middle hour, in which our young, ninjafied protagonist makes nice with a free-spirited family on European holiday, even flirts with boring at times. But the movie still has the benefit of some solid action setpieces, a soulful anchoring performance by Saiorse Ronan, fun (if sometimes over-the-top) character work by some real pros (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander) and a catchy kinetic groove supplied by the Chemical Brothers. As with last April’s vaguely similar tale of father-daugher mayhem, Kick-Ass, Hanna makes for a smarter and more engaging thrill ride than we usually see this time of year.
Perhaps the main reason Hanna seems to lag out in its middle hour is that its opening moves so fast. We begin in a snowy wilderness, and a pale young girl (Ronan) is hunting an elk with a bow and arrow. As soon as she makes the kill, she is set upon by another stalker, who proceeds to pummel her for being unwary. That would be her father (Bana), who through a combination of warrior training, tough love, and choice encyclopedia-readings is instructing his daughter in the ways of the Super-Spy. Apparently, we soon discover, these two have been living hand-to-mouth and off the grid, somewhere near the Arctic Circle, since Hanna was an infant. But, now, her Jedi training is close to complete — girl, you’ll be a ninja soon — and it’s time for young Hanna to be released back into civilization, with a very specific target in mind.
That target: Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett, reprising her southern drawl from The Gift), a CIA hand with longstanding connections to the feral father and daughter duo. And so, pretending to be a guileless innocent, Hanna gets herself taken into CIA custody to meet her quarry. Alas, she misses her first shot at the ruthlessly efficient Wiegler, and soon all of the parties are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase from Morocco to Berlin. But who’s the cat and who are the mice? The film helps clarify roles by having Wiegler enlist a creepy assassin (Hollander in a ridiculous tracksuit) to find her quarry, while Hanna falls in with a family caravan of innocents (headed by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng.) Unfortunately, Dad never got around to explaining collateral damage…
It’s this middle section of Hanna — in which our heroine makes her first friend, has her first kiss, etc — where the impressive energy established in the early going begins to leak out of the picture, and the film never really gets it back. It is not helped in this regard by the clunky decision of the writers to have Hanna channel Data from Star Trek: TNG and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the second Terminator whenever she’s confronted with the vagaries of modern life. (For example, Hanna’s reaction to having a boy lean in for a kiss: “Kissing requires thirty-four muscles in the face” or somesuch.) Nor, given what we see of her skill set, does it even make much sense for Hanna to be running half the time regardless — The question of whether she is going to fight or flight her way out of any situation seems to be completely arbitrary and script-driven.
That being said, Hanna does have its share of bravura action moments. Even if it makes no sense for an underground secret CIA lair to have sequentially-flashing nightclub strobelights, I dug the heck out of an early, Chemical-Brothers-driven sequence when Hanna unleashes carnage and then makes a run for it. Later on, there’s a pretty great Batman Begins-ish reversal — the hunters becoming the hunted — in a nighttime chase scene through a container park. And, while I complained about a needlessly flashy and distracting stunt take at Dunkirk in his adaptation of Atonement, Joe Wright tries something similar here — when Bana runs into some trouble at the train station — to much better effect.
It helps that, its occasional Brothers Grimm pretensions notwithstanding, Hanna really has no subtext to live up to. If the title card (introduced with a bullet) didn’t give it away, this is a well-made genre exercise, no more, no less, and it’s really just about having fun. (It seemed like Blanchett and Hollander, the villains of this fairy tale, were especially having a blast.) Taken for what it is, and allowing for its sagging middle hour, this film mostly delivers. If you watched one movie about a young woman kicking ass and taking names while on a grand adventure this past month, I sure hope it was Hanna.