Saturday, April 30, 2011
16 year old Hanna has been raised by her father in a forest in Finland for all her life. He has trained her to be deadly, smart, and without compassion. Yet she yearns to experience a world beyond hunting, training and reading. She aches for music. When she is allowed release, let into the real world, the CIA notices and so begins a chase across Europe as Hanna attempts to meet up with her father in Berlin and escape the clutches of their enemies.
Let me start right off by saying I loved this film, but with reservations, which I will get to eventually. This is a gorgeous movie, lovingly shot by the usually solid Joe Wright (of Atonement fame), with a camera that rarely sits still, but doesn't wallow in constant cutting. It's a movie that keeps its title character in the camera eye for almost the entire movie, which isn't a problem because Saoirse Ronan is very pretty, but it's never exploitative of her youth or beauty.
It's a weird movie that wants to say something profound about a young girl being raised in the wild and trained to be something not quite human. There's a funny scene where Hanna goes on a double date with her newly acquired English friend (a talkative and annoying typical teenage girl), and when the moment comes for Hanna to kiss the boy, she tackles him and almost breaks his neck. It's a scene that's supposed to convey the disconnect with the real world, the social world that Hanna is experiencing. However, the scene is a bit of a misfire because while it is funny, it doesn't really say anything about Hanna that we haven't already gleaned from numerous other instances.
This scene in particular is very telling of the flaws of this movie. Wright's desire to hang the aesthetic of the art film onto the skeleton of an action movie is commendable. It's been done before, but that's not really a problem. The issue with Hanna the film is that the skeleton of the action movie remains just that - a skeleton. There's hardly any meat on this screenplay. Everything is implied or just not said. But Wright wants to say important things, about how Hanna hasn't grown up, and her desperation for something - anything, but I'll be damned if I can tell you exactly what Wright's trying to say in regards to this. Is it bad? Is it good? What of it?
He juxtaposes these gorgeous images of Hanna in the wind, in the sun, running, smiling, crying, with the violence and the energy of action scenes. The soundtrack is quiet and thoughtful during non-action scenes, or he uses specific diegetic music like a gypsy singing or a television blaring. The contrast comes when the action is turned up to 11. Instead of introspection and static images of beautiful girls, Wright pumps up the Chemical Brothers' bizarre soundtrack and lets the light strobe and change colour, almost like a dance party but with broken bones.
It's tempting to just talk about Wright's camerawork with this movie. There's a couple instances of Wright's "signature" move: the long tracking shot. In one masterful sequence, we follow Eric Bana from a bus station to a subway station, while being shadowed by American agents. Without a single cut, Bana beats the shit out of all four without breathing hard. Fantastic.
But I don't want to talk about Wright's camera work for the entire review. I want to talk about Wright's lack of commitment to any idea or image. The movie doesn't want to commit to showing real violence. For such a deadly assassin, Bana's character nor Hanna really kill a ton of people. They tend to beat people up, break their bones, but they rarely commit to finishing them off. The same can be said about the movie. Wright never wants to commit to exploring Hanna's disconnection with the world, and he never wants to commit to a straight action movie. Every time there's a tense chase, or a ripping good setpiece, Wright goes back to putting Hanna under a microscope, but it's clouded. We rarely get under Hanna's skin.
Much of the movie's running time is devoted to this epic chase across Europe. Along the way, Hanna learns a little bit about herself and her past. But does she grow as a character? Well, sort of. She makes a new friend, with whom she engages in a bizarre bit of homoerotic subtext. She learns the truth about her genetics. But Hanna's final lines echo the first line, creating a circle, and I don't have to tell you that a circle is not an arc.
Does Hanna learn compassion? Does she learn something other than English teenagers are fucking annoying? I'm not so sure that she does. I think Wright tried really hard to hang the art film on top of the action thriller, but he had higher aspirations than that. I think he wanted to ask questions of the audience. "Here's a beautiful girl that's trained to be a killer - are her actions morally good or bad? She's a murderer, but you love her anyways. What's wrong with you?" This is utterly facetious though. Movie audiences have been separating their morals from their love of good characters for decades. Wright's juxtaposition of violent imagery with a coming-of-age story is one of specificity. It's no accident that a long lingering shot of Hanna's skin and eyes is followed by a few shots of Hanna just fucking up some guy's shit.
You can't even accuse me of reading too much into this movie. Wright's almost pointing out the dual nature of Hanna with specific cuts. He glides the camera from a shot of one side of Hanna's face in the house to another shot of Hanna's face on the other side, but this time in the fairytale-like wintry woods. "Look at this folks, Hanna is more than just a killer. She's a teenage girl" Yes, we know, Joe Wright. You keep reminding us with tracking shots of Hanna walking around and staring at things with her gigantic and stunning blue eyes. She's beautiful. We know.
That's not to say that this movie is bad. Far from it. It's superbly entertaining and it looks spectacular. I just had reservations with Wright's attempts at deepness. Even with these qualms I thought the movie was energetic and always fascinating. Cate Blanchett does a terrific job as the villain of the piece, a plastic fragile CIA agent who's always close to either freaking out or fucking shit up with a pistol. Blanchett just sells the character who hovers sometimes close to parody or caricature, but Blanchett's got good enough chops to keep it in line.
On the other hand, Bana plays his father as sleepy and as stiff as you can imagine. Sure, some of this can be attributed to the character, but if there was ever a colder portrayal, I never met them. It's a slight critique, but nonetheless distracts.
Okay, I will talk about the action scenes. They're incredible. Always coherent, never cutting for the sake of cutting, and always pounding with energy and verve. There's life in every frame of every action scene. I wish competent, visually gifted directors would do more action movies, just to show the hacks that action scenes don't have to be style over substance. I want to know what's happening on screen. If you can't deliver that, then you shouldn't be a director. Wright, on the other hand, is a pretty cool customer when it comes to communicating to the audience - visually that is. As aforementioned, his intent is muddled and morally murky.
Although, and this isn't to sound like some child molester, I could watch Saoirse Ronan tie her shoes and still be captivated. She has such an open and inviting face, very delicate and graceful, but she always gets the emotion across to the viewer. I'm sort of reminded of Lauren Graham, of Gilmore Girls. Both actresses are uncannily beautiful, but have the something extra, that luminescence, that effervescence about them. Always delightful to watch either actress.
Hanna is a great movie, but not without its faults. I still loved it. You should go out there and watch it and enjoy even on the surface, the action movie, and hopefully you'll pick up some of Wright's other motives.