Expect the unexpected. Given the fact that director Joe Wright is best known for making period dramas including PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) and ATONEMENT (2007), it's quite a radical departure to see him explore into modern action thriller territory called HANNA. In fact, HANNA has been garnered a lot of buzz even before its release: Seth Lochhead and David Farr's screenplay was listed on both 2006 and 2009 as the best unproduced screenplays of the year, with notable directors like Danny Boyle (127 HOURS) and Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN) reportedly have been circling the project before Joe Wright takes over. On the surface, HANNA is a unique take of the usual espionage thriller you often expected from mainstream Hollywood release. Think THE BOURNE IDENTITY plays out with arthouse sensibility, styled in a grim and modern fairy tale-like structure in the vein of Brothers Grimm, and you'll get the picture what HANNA has to offer here. HANNA is certainly something fresh out of the norm, but it's also the kind of movie that never quite reaches the full potential. Let's just say it's a mixed result.
The opening scene, however, is a stunning introduction: We first see a 16-year-old young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) who stalks a deer through the frozen woods in northern Finland, armed with a pistol, knife and bow and arrow. She takes an aim and shoots the arrow towards the deer. The deer is hurt and eventually collapses onto the frozen tundra. She sprints as fast as she can to get close to the injured deer, and looks rather disappointed when she notices the deer isn't much dead yet. As soon as she speaks out her first line, "I just missed your heart" and kills the deer with a pistol, it's clearly known that this is not an ordinary 16-year-old girl out for regular deer-hunting.
It turns out to be that the deer-hunting process is part of her training exercise, supervised by her ex-CIA agent father Erik (Eric Bana). Apparently Hanna has been extensively trained to be a skilled assassin for her entire life in a preparation for one mission. Apart from that, Erik educates her with vast knowledge through encyclopedias and fairy-tale storybooks. When Hanna is finally ready, Erik reveals the tracking device for her to activate the switch button anytime she wants. Because once the switch button is activated, the signal will reveal their hidden location to government officials, especially for the shady intelligence operative named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) who have been waiting all these years to get her hand on Hanna as well as eliminate Erik at all cost. Hanna is eventually captured by a team of covert operatives, and locked her inside the chamber facility for questioning purpose. It isn't long before she manages to make her escape where she is subsequently find herself stranded in the middle of the Moroccan desert. Her accomplishment now is to meet her father in Berlin. En route to Berlin, Hanna make friends with a bohemian British family especially their chatty daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden) and begins to learn something about life she never once had.
Meanwhile, Marissa enlists sadistic Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his two skinhead thugs to track down Hanna at all cost. The chase is on.
Despite the movie's BOURNE IDENTITY-like style, HANNA is more of a coming-of-age drama than an outright espionage thriller one might misunderstood from the promotional trailers. Anyone who is expecting this as a relentless chase thriller will be disappointed by the movie's slow pace and restrained storytelling that takes time to explore the characters all around.
That is actually hardly a problem if the movie still manages to capture your attention, but it's also surprising that Joe Wright doesn't quite know how to make the most out of its potential storyline. Seth Lochhead and David Farr's screenplay is beautifully restrained to keep the viewers guessing on the mystery surrounded the true motivations behind Hanna, Erik and Marissa's course of actions. However, the real problem is, getting there alone is a bumpy ride throughout its running time. Smack right in the middle, is a core of an coming-of-age drama exploring Hanna's eventual discovery of life and friendship. From the look of the subject matter, it's actually beautiful but it's not without its glaring problems. For example, one might question such a precise ex-CIA agent like Erik who schooled Hanna everything from self-defense to general knowledge that it's so odd to see him completely missed out on educating her on today's technology and such? Such baffling cases are scenes of her discovering switch light, TV and water boiler where she looks totally alienated, and another one where she questions the use of a passport for her identification. On the other side, the payoff finale is strangely anticlimactic, considering all the anticipations viewers have been sitting through from the beginning to see how Hanna will handle Marissa come face-to-face in the end.
Still HANNA remains a dreamy and at time exhilarating production to admire for. As Joe Wright already established himself a great visual stylist in his previous movies, you can say he makes a startling impact to become an action director with outstanding results. Aided with Alwin Kuechler's dynamic widescreen cinematography and a pulsating techno score by the Chemical Brothers, the action is crisp and exciting enough to keep the viewers hooked on the screen. Wright certainly knows the way around for framing his shots with the camera, as evidently shown in such spectacular set-pieces including Hanna's escape out of the chamber facility; the eight-minute tracking shot of Erik being tailed by a group of CIA agents before he eventually dispatching them off in the orange-bricked U-bahn station; and fight scene in the container area (love the way how Hanna slices off one of Isaacs' skinhead thugs with a knife). Jeff Imada's fight choreography, in the meantime, is top-notch and he has coordinated non martial-art actors like Ronan and Bana well enough to convince the viewers that they can fight like seasoned pros.
Cast-wise, all the actors are great, especially Saoirse Ronan's distinctively cold but vulnerable performance is magnificent who is both likable and menacing at once. For a 16-year-old girl who plays such physically-demanding role, Ronan's relatively young age is certainly impressive enough. The underrated Eric Bana is commendable enough as a rigid ex-CIA father with his trademark grim expression. Cate Blanchett is having a field day playing slimy villain in a thick Southern drawl, while Tom Hollander brings a sense of menacing aura to his sociopathic character as the vicious Isaacs.
While HANNA hardly qualified as among Joe Wright's best movies in line of PRIDE & PREJUDICE and ATONEMENT, it certainly announces that Wright is a versatile filmmaker after all who is capable to handle different genres.