Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Vicky Krieps, Jessica Barden
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Seth Lochhead, David Farr,
Cinematography: Alwin H. Kuchler
Original Score: The Chemical Brothers
Running Time: 111 Mins.
For better or worse films seem to fall in the camp marked mainstream or indie, mainstream films are crowd-pleasing by their very nature, you know what you’re getting the expectation is fulfilled (usually) and in a great mainstream film the expectations are exceeded but not usually at the expense of subversion. Indie films opposingly offer a skewed perspective, maybe something a little more grounded in the “real world” and take more time to craft characters, though this can more often than not result in a plodding, or leisurely, pace and don’t usually concern themselves with “plot drive” all that much. Why is this significant you may wonder? And why so for a review of director Joe Wright’s fourth film Hanna?
Well here’s the rub, Hanna is a film that has sold itself as a solid genre piece, a thriller about a genetically enhanced experiment (Saoirse Ronan) who is on a mission to kill her mother’s murderer, corrupt CIA operative Marissa, and there’s more, Hanna has been trained and brought up by Erik (Bana) a man she believes is her father while Marissa has set an “eccentric” hitman on Hanna’s trail. In fact this all rather adds up to a worthy entry into the ranks of Leon and The Assassin…except it doesn’t. At some points in the film the action piques, the pace quickens and the thriller I was looking forward too emerged. Ronan makes for a convincing killer and Bana demonstrates yet again why he should be a much bigger star, and despite his (relatively) minor role he gets to kick ass Jason Bourne style.
The problem is the building of the solid story and hints at genetically enhanced children (the stuff of sci-fi and superhero films) feels tonally at odds with the long periods of the film in which not a lot happens bar some rather stagnant character development, and for the amount of time we spend getting to know people you will likely either end up bored (as with Hanna herself) or annoyed (the throroughly middle class English family that takes Hanna in). The most interesting character here are the villains, Blanchett has proven she does a good line in creepy villains before but excels here using the little she has to work with to prove truly menacing, likewise Tom Hollander whose character comes from the stereotypical gay/eccentric/unusual hitman rulebook but he really has fun with it, though again it jars with the rest of the film and feels layered in adding little to the overall narrative.
Usually this clash in styles isn’t that problematic as one tends to over-ride the other and end up all the more memorable for it, but it takes a director well established in one or the other. Wright has a great eye for visuals and knows how to tell a story, his back catalogue of Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and the wildly under-rated The Soloist have proven as much, but wielding out-and-out thriller material seems to have evaded him in terms of moulding something that is a visually stimulating, character driven thriller. In patches yes there is a great deal of promise, the opening set amidst snowy woodland and a clutch of punchy action scenes are well-directed, set to a soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers that brings the same level of thrills as Daft Punk did for Tron: Legacy or Trent Reznor with The Social Network, the tension is ratcheted up and you begin to feel immersed…and then it stops as soon as it has begun.
This sudden bout of violence/action syndrome (stopping as soon as it started) has afflicted many a film lately, film-makers claiming it bring a level of realism. Fair enough I say in a drama, social realism, boxing films, as with anything it works in the right context but here it is simply misjudged and kills any tension with the long un-involving sections stymying the drive, and in a supposed “thriller’ the first and foremost thing needed is drive, a sense of danger and of urgency. Saoirse Ronan as the central protagonist also fails to help and just can’t convince, and in these times of hard-ass teen girls such as Hitgirl in Kick-Ass your heroine needs to make her mark, if the focus had stayed on the central idea this could quite easily have happened, and would have ironically allowed for a more layered character.
Hanna has a plot that holds a lot of promise for a tight an involving thriller is bungled by a director who seems an odd fit, Wright directs the all too infrequent action with flair and a punchy urgency but swamps it all in a totally misjudged, and rather dull, indie tinged character segments.