Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

The idea of Atonement director Joe Wright being let loose on an action film is certainly an intriguing one, especially when the concept centres on a reclusive teen girl assassin escaping into the outside world for the first time. One might expect some sort of fusion between Matthew Vaughan's Kick-Ass (which featured the viciously efficient and foul-mouthed “Hit Girl” child assassin played by Chloe Moretz) with Luc Besson's Leon (with its then pre-teen Natalie Portman's character the understudy to a world-weary hitman). In fact, Hanna turns out to be quite a different sort of film, but ultimately one whose disparate elements never really feel like they are coming together to form a coherent whole. It is also likely to be one of the strangest mainstream films to hit British cinemas this season.

The films title refers to young Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, who also appeared in Atonement), a teen who has spent most of her formative years sheltered in a log cabin in the wintery depths of a Finnish forest. Her father and protector is former CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana), whose daily routine for his daughter involves drilling her remorselessly in firearms, languages, knife combat, hunting and tracking. Adapt or die is his watchword. In a crisply-shot opening sequence, we see Hanna down a deer without hesitation with simple bow and arrow, a triumph which is swiftly followed by an ambush from her own father. The only respite from this harshness seems to be reading sessions by firelight in their cabin, where old primary school books and atlases are the only other source of knowledge granted to Hanna.

Copy picture

Though it is at first unclear why Hanna's father is subjecting her to this isolated regimen, the arrival of CIA agents at Erik's prompting begins the unravelling of Hanna's ordered life and the drip-drip of revelations as to who and what she is, and why her father hid her for so long. Extradited to Morocco by the CIA, who are led by the mysterious Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Hanna uses her training to escape and flees across the vivid African and European terrain towards a pre-arranged rendezvous with her father in Germany.

Having had only a few tattered books and the tales her father has spun for her to nourish her mind, Hanna understandably sees the outside world in naïve, childlike terms. This shapes the film's narrative structure and style: to the wide-eyed Hanna, this is a quest, a fable, she is a Red Riding Hood plucked from her log cabin by the big bad wolf.

Her journey takes on a fantastical nature heavy with fairytale symbolism: the military base she escapes from is (somewhat implausibly) underground in the middle of a huge desert wasteland. The reunion with her father takes place in a replica Grimm's fairy tale house complete with Ferris wheels and rollercoasters. Her opponents are equally oddball: Cate Blanchett sports a ludicrously over-the-top southern American accent and hairdo like some kind of wicked witch, while her camp minion-come-goblin Isaacs (Tom Hollander) dresses in what is surely the most offensive Eighties shell suit ever seen on screen. Thus chase drama meets children's fable, but is any of this real? Or is it the result of Hanna's young eyes and starved imagination? More importantly - is it a concept effectively deployed?

The truth is that this genre mash-up attempt ends up feeling more unintentionally hilarious and hysterical than impressive or refreshing - this is a film which could have used both more judicious editing and more stylistic restraint. Though the cinematography from Alwin Kuchler impresses throughout, it feels like this film is otherwise all over the place particularly in terms of tone and pacing, and more so in the second half following Hanna's escape.

This is not helped by a energetic but somewhat intrusive Chemical Brothers score. The performances are not at fault at least, with Saoirse Ronan acquitting herself extremely well with a captivating, icy intensity, though she perhaps lacks the physicality for the more action-oriented aspects of her role. Certainly she is a talent to watch, it is just a shame that Hanna turns out to be a distinct but ultimately frustrating vehicle for her.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2011
Share this with others on...
Hanna packshot
A teenager raised to be a killing machine, goes on a mission across Europe.
Amazon link

Director: Joe Wright

Writer: Seth Lochhead, David Farr

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Paris Arrowsmith, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, John MacMillan, Tim Beckmann, Vicky Krieps, Christian Malcolm, Jamie Beamish, Tom Hodgkins, Vincent Montuel, Nathan Nolan

Year: 2011

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, UK, Germany


Search database:

Related Articles:


If you like this, try:

Babylon A.D.