Thursday, April 28, 2011


"Grimm's Fairy Spy"
"Better Living Through Chemical Brothers"

Hanna isn't like any movie you've seen, if you managed to miss some of the more stylish spy thrillers at the end of the 1960's.  When the spy-craze went more mainstream more A-list directors started to get into the fray and suddenly the thrills started to be taken over by style as those film-makers attempted to impose some of their own creative instincts into the genre.  Sometimes the results were a sub-par thriller, others were just plain pretentious.  Some...were interesting (like this one is, and like The American was last year).

Joe Wright is one of the better British directors coming out BBC television work.  He's done his bit for the classics, old and new (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) quite deftly handling the drawing room choreography and even putting a nicely modern spin on things.  But, his 2009 film of The Soloist showed a director who wanted to experiment with the form, break out of the stodgy "Beeb" way of doing things and shake the story-telling up a bit (in that film, he turned Los Angeles into a living, breathing, rumbling sci-fi character looming over its strata of citizenry).  It was interesting to see him attached as director to what looked like a common "actioner," and one wondered what he might bring to it, given his three previous films and how he appeared to be changing his style.

Change it, he did.  Hanna is a weird mixture of gloss and QT-perversion, with some very strange camera work that, somehow, never manages to not tell you what is going on, to whom, where and why.  No matter how over-the-top the theatrics become, Wright never forgets the basic job of keeping the audience informed, and with a screenplay spare on details and depending on the visual to tell the story, his discipline is critical (imagine, for instance, if Tom Hooper had directed it!) for any basic understanding of the film.  Hanna  heaps on the atmospherics, not only with a brazen fairy-tale sub-text, but an all-encompassing sound-design/Euro-electronica musical score by The Chemical Brothers,* that recall some of the '60's/'70's work of such composers as Mikis Theodorakis and Giorgio Moroder.  But the thumping, edgy noises permeate the entire soundtrack, not just the music, from the sweet tune that one of the Hanna-hunters (Tom Hollander, cast completely against type) whistles, quite nullifying any element of surprise,** to the pounding chase music that keeps the attention focused while Wright spins his camera or shifts perspective, *** to the creepy metal noises and animal sounds that permeate this world. 

It begins in Finland, in the snow as a caribou is being hunted by a lone figure in fur.  She dispatches the animal with one arrow shot ("I just missed your heart"), and begins to dress the animal for food.  "You're dead!" says a figure behind her, and a rapid brutal fight breaks out, dependent less on fast editing than rhythm, and she is soon slammed to the ground, a snow angel against her will.  "Drag the deer back yourself," says the man, who it turns out is Hanna's father (Eric Bana).

She is Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan—pronounced "Seersha"—and she worked with Wright in Atonement, and specifically asked that he direct this) and it is all survivalist training.  Hanna has been raised to live on the land, kill and cook her own food, have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything (except electronics, apparently) given that her schooling is from the encyclopedia, speak several languages and have a detailed history that is nothing like her own.

What is her history?  What is her father's?  We don't get too deep into the film before we learn he's a rogue security agent gone missing, and he's a bee in the bonnet of Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchettimagine her being creepy and then go a few steps further), an operative high up the chain of command.  And she is Hanna's target.  And Hanna must get to her before Marissa can find her.  The why's will come, eventually, but already we've invaded a fairy-tale landscape with the sheltered princess (who can snap your neck) and an evil step-mother who stays only a few evil steps behind the whole movie.  And given Ronan's goose-like grace throughout the film, one can't help but call to mind all sorts of folk-tales of changelings and bargains and revenge.  But it's a spy thriller, too, as cold as they come, so don't expect "happily ever after."

For me, it was a simple story told well that impressed me throughout.

But it just missed my heart.

BANG!  Hanna is a Matinee.

* Their impact on the film is incredible.  I kept imagining what the film would be like with a "standard" thriller score, and always came up with a duller, less propulsive film.

** This recalls Peter Lorre's child killer in Fritz Lang's M (1931).  Hollander vaguely recalls Lorre's look, and, later,  Wright stages a fight to the tune "M" whistled from Peer Gynt—"In the Hall of the Mountain King," (after The Social Network, this piece is getting a lot of traction).

*** "What does music feel like?" Hanna asks at an early stage of the script.  Here, it feels like having a heart attack in zero-g.  One of the reasons this film DOESN't have a traditional score is that Hanna, the character, doesn't know music, and as we're following her struggles, the music reflects her mood, whether placid or on the run.  It's rather interesting where those moods show up.


RosieP said...

Personally, I thought that "HANNA" was a pretentious movie with plot lines that did not make any sense. The connection between Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan lacked any real logic, as far as I was concerned. And I found myself longing for the movie to end. At least the action and Ms. Ronan's performance was decent.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Well, the relationship is based on whatever bond Bana and Hanna's mother had developed, and a combination of Bana's vengefulness and responsibility for Hanna. What you call pretension, I'll call style. Pretension I would have applied if Wright hadn't done the rest of it competently.

Thanks for the comment, Rosie, and I admire your blog...I'm a new follower. :D