Hanna is yet another variation on the “one man army” theme, most recently characterized by the Jason Bourne trilogy. This time, a young girl is cast as death incarnate. The director, Joe Wright, who usually helms more mature projects such as Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, would seem ill prepared for such a task. Surprisingly, his skill set makes for a strikingly good fit. Hanna is an exercise in artful technique at the service of a simple but affecting story.
Joe Wright possesses the visual eye of a child prodigy. Situations are surveyed quickly. Information is retained and relayed with shocking speed and clarity. Images are flashed onscreen rapidly, but remain just long enough for the viewer to soak them in completely. The story of Hanna is often told chiefly through its visuals. Frequently when the characters are engaging each other they speak through their actions, which is the very definition of an “action” picture.
The fights are not intricately choreographed. The martial techniques on display opt for the shortest route between points A and B. There is no labored ballet of move and counter move as in a modern martial arts film. The antagonists see combatants as obstacles to be cleared, not opportunities to show skill. Yet, a certain grace still underlies the technical precision. The coverage of the action varies between a number of angles and speeds, all of which allow for concise and sequential storytelling. There is one particular encounter done in a single unbroken take that will be discussed for years to come.
The dialogue is also a model of precision. It is used sparingly, like how a chef might use a rare spice or ingredient. It is never allowed to substitute for the actual substance of the meal. Its main purpose is to add texture and flavor. The endless (and often inane) quips and puns of modern blockbusters are nowhere to be found here. The humor isn’t forced, nor does it follow the usual routine of setup and punchline. The emotions and relationships come about organically. As the antagonist discovers things, so does the audience. This way, the expected twists and turns of the plot feel fresh even when they aren’t.
Hanna is a project where everything works in harmonious synch. Nowhere is this truer than in the performances. Saoirse Ronan’s silence conveys innocence and curiosity, while her body language and reaction to adversity reveals the predator within. Eric Bana is solid as a trainer and keeper who has grown into a caring patriarch. This is one occasion where his usual dry characterization suits the tone of the material, rather than being a distraction. Cate Blanchett also finds a way to convey emotion through a seemingly emotionless veneer. Her outward discipline belies obsessive compulsion and control freak tendencies.
Hanna is as satisfying and complete and action picture as you are likely to see this year. It’s light on its feet, but firm in its grasp of the material. It doesn’t allow its story or visuals to devolve into meaningless abstraction. Like its protagonist, it sees its destination clearly and cuts a path straight to it. Joe Wright might not be an “action” director in the prototypical sense, but he understands the genre better than many who supposedly specialize in it.
Out of 5
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