Friday, April 8, 2011

Hanna

Review by Bob Ignizio

Parents watch their children grow into adulthood with a mixture of hope and fear. That's certainly the case for Erik Heller (Eric Bana), who knows that when his daughter Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) leaves the nest, she'll have far more difficulties to face while making that transition than the average teenage girl. That's because Hanna is the product of a CIA experiment designed to create a perfect warrior. Erik has done all he can to train his daughter to protect herself against those who will inevitably come looking for her, but the isolated cabin the two have been living in hasn't provided much opportunity for teaching Hanna how to function in the real world. She's incredibly bright and capable, but to call her socially awkward would be a major understatement.

It sounds like the setup for the first installment of yet another franchise based on a best-selling “young adult” series of novels ala TWILIGHT or I AM NUMBER FOUR, but HANNA turns out to be a surprisingly smart and mature film with appeal for adults as well as adolescents. Most of the nastier bits of violence take place off screen, but it never feels like the movie is holding back just to get the more commercially viable PG-13 rating. Nor does HANNA push the boundaries of that rating just to see what it can get away with short of an R. The result is a movie all but the most violence-sensitive parents could actually go to with their tween or teenage children without anyone feeling too uncomfortable or bored.

None of which is to say that this is a “turn off your brain” popcorn movie by any stretch of the imagination. While by no means lacking in visceral thrills (a subway fight scene between Bana and some thugs being just one standout action scene), HANNA requires that its viewers remain intellectually engaged throughout. Credit for that belongs to director Joe Wright (ATONEMENT) as well as screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr for having faith that there is an audience for a smart and, at times, even low key action film that doesn't rely on gimmicky twists. That makes two such films in as many weeks (SOURCE CODE being last week's example), and I can't say I'd be disappointed if this were to be the beginning of a trend.

Good performances all around, especially from Ronan, who also starred in Wright's ATONEMENT. She has to convey strength one moment, confusion and vulnerability the next, and then provide a little comic relief as she tries to learn the ways of a typical American teenager. Cate Blanchett camps it up a little more than usual as Marissa, the film's villain. This is a character with very few shades of grey, yet she still manages to inject just a hint of sadness that make her seem human. You get the impression Marissa believes she is Hanna's mother on some level, and at the same time that she wants to kill her, she has a part of her that craves acceptance from her “daughter”.

As much as I like it when a movie treats me like I have a brain, sometimes Wright's subtlety verges on being obtuse. I don't need to have every little plot thread neatly wrapped up, but we really should know what happens to the nice hippie family that befriends Hanna, as it's not entirely clear. Perhaps a deleted scene will show up on the DVD or Blu Ray to clear that up, but it doesn't help when you're sitting in the theater wondering what happened to these characters you had been led to care about. It's a testament to Wright's direction that this and other unanswered questions didn't bother me as much as they might have. It's not perfect, but HANNA is still pretty damn good. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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