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.


Starring: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Dejan Angelov, Dragos Bucur, Mark Strong

Director: Peter Weir

Writer(s): Keith R. Clarke, Peter Weir, Slavomir Rawicz (novel)

Cinematography: Russell Boyd

Original Score: Burkhard Von Dallwitz

Running Time: 133 mins.

Some films just seem to be destined for viewing at a specific time of the week, for example The Way Back is without a doubt a Sunday Afternoon film, a sweeping epic taking in the hardships of the world and concerning a quest to reach a seemingly impossible goal against all odds. If this sounds like The Lord of the Rings, it kind of is, minus the fantasy elements and excitement but with lashings of “serious tone” to help try to make us empathise with the plight of the men, and woman, who journey across hellish landscapes to find freedom.

It does not start out this way, the first 30 minutes are a gripping prison film set in a Russian Gulag (essentially the Soviet’s equivalent of a concentration camp), there we see Jim Sturgess new arrival Janusz going through the motions of getting to know the factions of power within the prison (run by thieves and killers including Colin Farrell’s Valka) and having hopes of escaping the brutality of the place planted in his mind by Mark Strong’s Khabarov, an actor who is imprisoned simply for playing the part of an old-regine aristocrat, a fact that manages to find some lightness in the earlier stages of a film that is bereft of anything approaching humour in the latter stages.

The charisma possessed by Strong and used to such great effect is sorely missed and only Farrell comes close to keeping up this end of  a tale in need of a little escapism, sadly he too disappears some way through as the shift towards things being ever more bleak and serious continues. It is this heavy handed nature of direction and acting that oddly detracts from the drama when we should be drawn in, Peter Weir is an excellent director fully capable of sweeping epics that are honed around strong characters (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), and this focus on character is the crux on which all of his films hang regardless of plotting.

However here the story is spread far too thin, leaving us with stretches where nothing happens save for searching for food/water amidst dessert or mountain ranges interspersed with campsite conversations that are often mumbled or retread already covered ground, meaning that even after what feels like hours spent with these men we have learnt next to nothing about them, Weir seems to yearn for the camaraderie of Saving Private Ryan or indeed LOTR but instead gets a rather distant study of men whom we are not quite sure to have been good or bad, except for the more highly strung (and tellingly entertaining) Valka.

In this kind of film it is often the people met or the more dramatic events that keep the pacing both interesting and gripping, in the final third neither of these chords are struck as the endless desert the men must navigate feels just that, endless. The only events are very minor, maybe in trying to keep a low key tone? but if this were the case the characters needed to be more interesting, with the introduction of a young lady/girl in the form of Saorise Ronan adding nothing and feeling totally out of place save the cliched awakening of one characters fatherly instincts.

Though my verdict may seem damning this is a far from bad film, it is shot beautifully, as to be expected by a National Geographic production, and the performances while not always gripping are good and convincing without being revelatory, Farrell and Strong stand out most owing to theirs being the more interesting and entertaining turns but Sturgess is a solid lead layering heroism and fragility well but as mentioned before with little depth in the script it is hard to empathise with him. The pace is slow, yet deliberate, and highlights my reasoning for this as a Sunday afternoon film, one that you can doze while watching and provides some beautiful sights and a convincingly gritty and “real” story, if not the most entertaining one.


The Way Back is an admirable effort from Weir to not get bogged down with emotion and focus on human endurance, man vs. nature if you will, however it lacks the kinetic energy and likeable nature of this month’s other survival story 127 Hours, meaning this is an experience best left for a lazy Sunday as opposed to a sluggish cinema viewing.