Hands down, my favorite movie of 2011 so far. Of course, it’s only April, and I am, admittedly, a sucker for well-made action movies with female leads.
The movie is gripping, suspenseful, and I must commend The Chemical Brothers for sound mixing in this film (the latest in the trend of successful artists creating film scores–see Daft Punk, Trent Reznor, et. al).The pulsing, driving techno beats make the action sequences–especially the escape from a government facility–heart-thumpingly intense.
The entire segment conducted in the government facility is one of my favorite parts of the film, and not only for the music.
The escape is riveting, as all the action scenes are. Joe Wright expertly crafts each chase, each fight, each nerve-wracking shootout. However, the moments that stay with you are the subtle, soft shots: Hanna leaning her head out a car window, feeling relative relaxation for the first time in days, father and daughter relaxing before a fire, the bit with the elk and the repeated line, “I just missed your heart.”
The film opens in a stark winter whiteness, with Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father, Erik (Eric Bana), isolated in a snow-covered cabin. Bana is almost unrecognizable in his mountain man getup, and his transition back to the handsome, suited man we know provides one of the rare spots of humor in this film–when Hanna attempts to cut her father’s hair.
Erik has trained Hanna since birth in all manners of survival skills. She can speak a number of language, can spout off obscure facts, and can drag 200 pounds of elk through the forest. More importantly, she can fight.
Though she knows leaving the wintry world would mean mortal danger for her and her father, Hanna yearns for independence. Now a teen, the life she lives with her father is “not enough.” Erik allows her the choice of activating a sensor that will alert mysterious enemies to their location. The two make a plan to meet in their native Germany, and Erik departs.
Just as expected, the troops come to their cabin. Hanna’s introduction to the real world is violent, chaotic, and eerie. Much like Hit Girl or early-seasons Buffy, Hanna gains some easy success simply by virtue of looking her age. No one suspects the skinny teenage girl to be a trained killer. Until she kills.
The movie alternates between scenes of stark scenes of violence and warmly lit light scenes, most involving a family Hanna meets while traveling. The family includes the typical nuclear unit: father, mother, daughter, son. The son is inquisitive and shy, the daughter giggly and stereotypically teen. The parents have disagreements over parenting styles, over grammar, over who is more conservative. The family isn’t perfect, but we do see a lovely scene involving a family sing-along about self-respect. This happy unit exists as an obvious foil for Hanna and her father.
This is not to say that Hanna and her father don’t make a family, but that their family mustneeds be less happy sing-along, and more harsh preparation for future violence. We find out that Hanna has a somewhat predictable genetic secret, linked to Marissa, the CIA agent who is bent on finding her and destroying Erik.
Marissa (a wonderfully frightening Cate Blanchett) is as much Hanna’s mother as Erik, her father. Both created her, in a sense. Hanna’s confrontations with both characters are an exaggeration of the traditional pubescent confrontations with parental figures. She rejects both at times, and the rejection of the father is the most heartbreaking scene in the movie, particularly because seasoned audiences can guess what the next scene will hold.
Ronan perfectly conveys a girl who is at once not all there and more there than any other young teen. From emotionless assassin, to confused little girl, Hanna is complex, strong, and surprisingly sympathetic.
Hanna is an allegory of the traditional coming of age, presented as a rude, crude awakening. Aren’t they all?