Joe Wright is a British director known for his adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Both were slow, thoughtful pieces with a plenty of characterisation and some sweeping camerawork. In 2011, he directed Hanna, which did not set the box office alight, perhpas it was its ludicrous-sounding plot, or casting of virtually unknown young actress Saoirse Ronan as his lead, but there is more than meets the eye with this stylish, fairy-tale come spy thriller.
Raised in a snow-laden forest in Finland, Hanna (Ronan) is trained in martial arts, military tactics and various languages by her ex-CIA father Erik (Eric Bana). Tired of only reading about music and the more artistic side of life, she decides to join society for the first time and finds herself embroiled in a mission that drags her across Europe being chased by CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett) as well as a host of thoroughly unlikeable people.
Unlike Wright‘s previous works, Hanna is adrenaline-pumping action from the start. It refuses to pull any punches with it’s action, and young Hanna is a 16-year-old you don’t want to cross. From her violent confrontations throughout to her interactions with a British family on their travels, Ronan embraces the role with all the verve and panache of an actress three times her age and is an absolute revelation. As emotionally-naive, as she is trained to kill, you feel that there is no situation that she is incapable of dealing with. The supporting cast are also nicely handled, with Bana the protective father figure and Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA career agent who hunts Hanna.
Hanna plays out simultaneously as a fairy tale, a coming of age drama and a spy thriller, and Wright deftly moves the action and pacing accordingly without the film ever dragging and he even finds time for amusing and heart-breakingly poignant moments in among the killing. Sadly, as breath-taking as the action scenes are, they detract from the heart of the film and like Hanna herself feel cold and uninviting and it is this level of style over substance that harms the films overall story-telling ability.
As impressively thrilling as it is poignant, Hanna is as stylish as the films it will be compared too. The central performance is stronger than Natalie Portman‘s in Leon and the fairy-tale exploration of a world only read about puts it head and shoulders above La Femme Nikita. Ronan is a star in the making and it is nice to see Wright taking some risks, even if they don’t all pay off.