' ' Cinema Romantico: Hanna

Monday, April 23, 2012


As if Hollywood and Park City furiously mixed up ingredients, Joe Wright's "Hanna" is technically labeled an "action" film, although it's at its worst when at its most action-y and at its best when at its strangest and taking time to study its character despite the fact it falls far short of a true "character study." It's just a hell of a thing, this "Hanna." It's so far off the wall it's gone and left any rooms with walls miles behind, running and wandering through a boundless Moroccan desert. But I'm getting ahead of myself (as I so often do).

Like a female Jason Bourne re-imagined by Judy Blume, the title character (an intense Saoirse Ronan) has spent her 16 formative years in the middle of the Finnish wilderness with her father Erik (Eric Bana, stoic) who has trained her 1.) To fend entirely for herself and 2.) In the arts of the only the most skilled assassin. Why? As will eventually be revealed, Erik, as tradition in this genre stipulates, was a CIA agent who disappeared upon learning an unknowable secret which left him with a death mark. However, he gives his daughter the choice of facing the modern world if she wants it. She does. And so adhering to the most carefully cultivated of plans, Erik sets off via foot while Hanna sends a transmission to the CIA which leads Marissa Weigler (a delightfully unhinged Cate Blanchett) to send in a team to extract Erik which, of course, leads them to extracting Hanna instead who, following her and her father's plan, is waiting for them.

Hanna is taken into custody in Morocco, escapes through skilled and devious means and flees into the desert with Marisa and cronies hot on her trail. Eventually she comes into contact with a family of British sort-of gypsies and forms an oddball friendship with the daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden), who continually comes across as someone upset she is forced to cruise around in a camper-van as opposed to sitting in bed and watching a "Real Beckham" marathon. She hitches a ride with this pseudo-family with the ultimate goal of reaching Berlin to meet up with her father at Grimm's House.

Those are the specifics. The specifics are sooooooo uninteresting. Wright, working with writers David Farr and Seth Lochhead, has fused some sort of insane hybrid, the first of its kind, a Quirky Action Picture, perhaps? Or maybe just the damndest and most expansive music video ever caught on film. With "Hanna", Wright proves himself - at least thus far - as no master of this seemingly endless parade of martial arts-styled extravaganzas. The choreographed action sequences are clearly choreographed to the point they become stilted. The bits that truly pop are the less conventional, like a creepy scene in which Hanna hides from Marisa under the requisite bed and the camera focuses in on tight on Marisa's shoes which somehow brilliantly clue us into her every thought and move. Or the scene in which we see just what it was that Marisa did to Erik oh so many years ago and how Hanna failed to fall into her sinister clutches then.

It is all whipped up with crisp editing and a snazzy, synthy soundtrack and invested at every turn with supporting characters who seemed to have been recast from a film Werner Herzog failed to make when he suddenly became more interested in electric jellyfish and decided to make a documentary instead. Make no mistake, all the supporting roles are under-written but dutifully over-acted (aside from Bana), and I mean that as a high compliment. Tom Hollander's vile, omnipresent (until he isn't) henchman - speaking of Herzog - is Klaus Kinski by way of the Gay 90's. Knepfler (Martin Wuttke), the man whom Hanna meets in Berlin, is an old stringy-haired magician whose house you would tell your kids to avoid at all costs on Halloween. And Blanchett, in a role that essentially gives her nothing to do except be on the prowl, appears to have made the decision to play it as if she's tracking Luke & Owen Wilson in "Bottle Rocket"

There was something here, I think, ripe for exploration in Hanna's terrifying introduction to a technology-dependent world she does not understand (the scene where she "finds breakfast" for her new family is one of the funniest things you will see on a DVD this year) and although the obligatory Reveal in regards to her backstory contains far more emotion than is typical in these sorts of cinematic offerings it could have reached another level of psychology if the screenplay had properly built to it.

Wright, however, seems entirely content to spare a deeper end game to craft something campy and excessive that gains a whole lotta glory directly from its vast imperfections. In other words, this movie rocked.


Anonymous said...

I agree about imperfections, of which one I thought was Blanchett. I just didn't buy into her witch character. But when you fall in love, you don't care about imperfections. From the opening scene I was absolutely aboard with this show. The soundtrack contributed quite a bit as well as the quickly paced choreagraphed action scenes. And Hanna herself. As long as you didn't start THINKING about things, it rocked

Oh, and I loved the humorous confrontation between the savage and the civilization! Sure, we've seen it before, in Tarzan and such. But it still works for me.

Anonymous said...

Well-written Nick. What I liked about this film was that the action was pretty stylized, as was the rest of the flick, but when they started to actually focus on the plot and characters, my interest started to wan. The cast is good though and holds up the screenplay even when it starts to get dry.

Dan said...

It's interesting that you point out the acting as being one of the uninteresting parts of Hanna. I was impressed by some of the fights, especially Eric Bana's battle in the subway station. I agree that it was a bit campy (and that it rocks), and I think you're getting at what works so well about Hanna. It manages to deliver a cool, stylish action film without taking itself too seriously. It walks the line and manages to succeed on both counts.

Nick Prigge said...

VC: I don't know, Blanchett really worked for me. Well, the performance worked for me anyway. I don't know about the character. I thought Blanchett went off the beaten path and that put it over the top. And I totally agree about the soundtrack. That helped a lot.

Dan 1: Thank you! It was definitely stylized. One of the more stylized movies you'll come across.

Dan 2: Very well said. It's a tricky line it tries to walk and succeeds. It kind of makes me wish Joe Wright would try more movies like this one.

Andrew K. said...

"a delightfully unhinged Cate Blanchett" understatement, beautiful understatement. It's not just because of The Aviator but Cate relishing Marissa here reminds me so much of Kate Hepburn going sort of batshit in Suddenly Last Summer.

Unlike you, though, I don't specifically want Wright to do more films like this. I get snobby like that, but I hate he had to step out of "period" for people to realise that Joe is a visual-minded director with fresh things to do (this film works because of the direction most) and it just brings up all those annoying things about movie conceits and what makes a forward thinking director (case in point, so many are still unwilling to notice what Scorsese does in Age of Innocence.

But, I digress, ultimately a fun one - the tiniest bit turgid in some spots, amusingly silly at times but certain of its point and continuously compelling and entertaining.

Nick Prigge said...

I understand what you're saying about Joe Wright. You know how I feel about "Atonement" and regardless of the fact that it was a period piece he did do interesting things with the visuals. I always return to the sequence where he cuts back and forth between Robbie and Celine when they are getting ready for dinner later that night and how he conveys the fact they are THINKING about one another without it overtly being said.

That said, I still also wish he would do more films like "Hanna." The action genre needs him just as much.