Forget what Hanna (Focus Features, 4.8) is about because you’ve seen this fists-of-fury action-girl fantasy stuff before in Kickass, Salt and Sucker Punch — the same crap about a young 115-pound female hardbody wailing on much bigger and heavier adversaries, etc. But if you focus on Hanna‘s throttling symphonic style — the high-grade chops and adrenalized tone and choice fashion-flash photography, and the way it pounds into your head with a loud, throbbing techno-score by the Chemical Brothers — you may feel a special wow.
That’s certainly what I felt during last night’s 7 pm screening on Wilshire Blvd.
Hanna is about a kind of teenaged super-assassin (Saoirse Ronan) who’s been trained by her ex-CIA dad (Eric Bana) to be sharper, faster, stronger and more stealthily savage than anyone or anything else in the super-charged, super-tech espionage world of 2011. The plot has something to do with Cate Blanchett‘s Marissa, a kind of nutter cold-fish senior intelligence honcho with perfect makeup and exquisitely designed sensible shoes and an eye-popping red wig, directing freelance minions to capture and/or kill Hanna and her dad after sending soldiers out to their snow-covered hut in the forests of Finland or wherever…you don’t really care and it’s nothing to take even semi-seriously.
Bad guys after wild-child Hanna, Hanna is swift and resourceful, Hanna learns about the world after being cooped up with dad most of her life, Hanna resents dad for his manipulations and wonders who and what she really is, Hanna and Cate have their big showdown, etc. Definitely the same old gruel if you’re focusing solely on story, theme, character, etc.
Except it’s not the same-old same-old because this is high-powered, fashion-attuned, nutty-as-a-fruitcake Hanna, which is basically a movie about director Joe Wright showing everyone that he’s as much of a power-pop madman in a fuzz-rumble, high-tech, ass-kick mode as any other highly paid hotshit action director, and perhaps a bit more so. “You can forget about that soulful Anthony Minghella-type stuff I used to be into,” Wright is more or less saying with this film. “I’m still a show-off but not in the sweeping, sensitive, meditative-heartfelt way of The Soloist and Atonement and Pride and Prejudice because I’m a brand-new, slightly higher-grade permutation of a crazy-fuck, style-conscious action maestro, and I am going to totally wail on your ass in a way that’s going to surprise you.”
Early on I began muttering to myself that Hanna is a kind of musical action fantasia. On some level and for a reason I can’t precisely explain it feels fresh, or at least significantly fresher than the last piece of formulaic action shit along these lines. Which means that it’s not a piece of formulaic shit — it’s something else due to the hyper-intense energy that Wright put into the shooting and cutting. So it’s something of value in the action realm, something that simultaneously reflects the general depravity and meaninglessness of the action thriller ream and at the same time a kind of reinvigoration. It is certainly required viewing. And try to see it in a theatre with an extra-powerful sound system.
I was somewhat intrigued by Ronan’s performance as a supergirl character, particularly the wide-eyed innocence with which she regards the world. She’s always had a burn-through intensity in her eyes, and she does elevate the material somewhat, I feel, especially in the quieter moments. Bana is okay, sufficient, whatever. Blanchett is a hoot — she’s giving one of those highly perverse lah-lah performances in which she’s half-winking at the camera and really enjoying being made to look extra dishy. And I especially enjoyed Tom Hollander‘s fierce performance as a blonde-haired killer with a mad glint in his eye (particularly because he gave off such a measured and mousey vibe in Armando Iannucci‘s In The Loop).
Trailers will almost always present a dumbed-down impression of a film, and should always be taken with a grain of salt. And yet in early February I allowed the mock-ironic tone of a title-card narration on a Hanna trailer [see above] to influence my expectations for the film. The trailer begins with these words: “Once upon a time there was a very special girl who lived in the woods with her father.” And my reaction was “what kind of traditional fairytale cynical horseshit is this?”
I saw Hanna last night, and I knew less than two minutes after it began that the “once upon a time” line was just some Focus Features marketing person’s idea of being coy or cute. Marketing people are so strange and creepy. They aren’t necessarily devoted to misrepresenting what a film actually feels and plays like, but they’ll do this in a heartbeat if they feel this will impress the not-very-bright sectors of the viewing public. And in the process they sometimes manage to hoodwink people like me. Thanks, guys — it’s nice having smoke blown up my ass.