ADOLESCENCE IN THE CROSS-HAIRS

a review of "Hanna"


 

Heaven knows sixteen's a hard age for anyone.  When you've spent your whole life in a zero-tech hovel in the tundra, where you don't get breakfast unless you kill it first, while the only other human being in your universe subjects you to 24/7 martial arts training that would amount to child abuse, were it not for his reasons, it's rough indeed.  But the real adolescence begins with discovery of a world beyond your upbringing.  If you find yourself thrust abruptly into a confusing, noisy modern world with terrifying things in it like showers and ceiling-fans, that really ups the ante.  And if you spend this time of discovery chased by assassins through a bewildering succession of countries and situations, while simultaneously trying to hunt down the woman whom you're told you must kill or be killed by, meanwhile struggling to find out who the heck you are and why everybody wants you dead just for existing, well then, somebody ought to at least nominate your life for the hardest adolescence of the year.

 

I like to evaluate films on four main criteria: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  If it scores on none it's a dog. If it does well on any one it disappoints me but I don't count it a complete waste of time.  Two and it's okay.  Three I really like it.  And if it hits on all four it goes in my mental book of classics.  “Hanna” hits on all four.

 

Physical: Does this movie grab you by the glands and take over your body, forcing your heart to beat faster and your breath to catch, making you feel like you are really there?  Check.  Mental: Does it give you an intriguing puzzle to solve, exercise your brain, and pile on such realistic detail that it makes the suspension of disbelief easy?  Check.  Emotional: Does it offer believable and engaging characters who cause the viewer to care what happens to them, and sometimes makes you gasp at a twist of the heart now and then?  Check.  Spiritual:  Does it move you to confront deep moral/ethical/philosophical questions, and/or inspire you?  Check on the first option.  Summation:  You'd have to work mighty hard to get better than this movie.

 

When you create super- or preternatural heroes, you stand some risk of making their challenges too easy to care about. When you write about some wide-eyed naif facing terrifying situations all by herself, you risk making her too pathetic, too easy a target.  This movie strikes a razor-fine balance between these two extremes without toning either one down. It takes great risks, teetering on the edge of brutality or sentimentality, and escapes both within an inch of its life, piling the psychological tension onto this already volatile story.

 

Hanna manages to simultaneously be one of the most horrifying and sympathetic characters I've run across in a long time.  You can't help but love her.  You also can't help but thank the stars that she won't ever move into your neighborhood.  She kills as innocently as a wolf.  She wonders as purely as a baby.  The spiritual abuse that she has suffered enraged me until I understood the reasons for it—and then I still felt mad, and grieved for her, but where to direct that anger became much more of a problem.  Her very existence stirs up deep moral issues on respect for human life, and her upbringing and inevitable circumstance only digs the questions deeper.

 

Saoirse Ronan, no older than the girl she portrays, does an amazing job bringing Hanna to life, and she already has an impressive track record in prior films, such as “The Lovely Bones” and “Atonement”.  This is an actress to watch!  Eric Bana manages to move the heart, both negatively and positively, as the cold-blooded killer who has sacrificed his entire life to raise and protect the little girl he loves.  I did not recognize Cate Blanchett till the end credits, so thoroughly did she immerse into the ruthless yet brittle spy, whose secret you can guess at yet never confirm for certain.  Tom Hillander, as Isaacs, pretty much played your standard twisted villain flunkie, but this story wasn't really about him.  And all of the various actors met along the way on this frenetic road trip played their roles convincingly, with some particularly memorable turns by Jessica Barden (the “normal” teenage girl befriended by Hanna) and Aldo Maland (her little brother Miles—another young actor with a future!)

 

They had a good, tight script to work with, provided by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, based on Mr. Lochhead's original story.  I would not recommend the inspired camera-work to anyone feeling queasy, but it perfectly captures Hanna's vertigo, thrust into the unknown.  Speaking of queasiness, although they did not pull punches on violence, neither did they linger on gratuitous gore.  Some things are best seen in silhouette, and I appreciate their restraint without compromising adrenaline.  The artistic direction perfectly captured Hanna's world, both the harsh beauty, silence, and cold of her lifelong home, almost peaceful even in its violence, and the enticing/terrifying/overwhelming chaos beyond it.

 

A special word about the soundtrack, by the Chemical Brothers.  Although not something I would listen to for pleasure, its mostly atonal noise perfectly matched the story of a girl who had never heard music at all until her life came into danger.  This works well with the intermittent contrast of a wide range of music forms which Hanna encounters along the way, almost stabbing the heart with her sudden, brief brushes with beauty, so that we hear it, with her, as though for the first time.  Throughout this harrowing tale we need these islands of relief, when for minutes at a time, Hanna can become a teenage girl discovering a brave new world.

 

With so much going for it, you have to hand some laurels to the director, Joe Wright.  So much can't possibly go well simultaneously without a sure hand at the rudder.  Well done, sir!