Shocking, hilarious and genuinely thrilling, Hanna is a new breed of action film that elevates at least two genres to another level.
It isn’t often that an action-thriller gets to open a major film festival, but Hanna is not typical of the genre. When Festival patron Cate Blanchett presented the film at this year’s Sydney Film Festival on behalf of director Joe Wright, the festival hit us over the head with a winner of an opener, with Wright combining his artistic sensibilities and thriller leanings in what may well have been the first art-action film of the year, a twisted nightmare of a fairy tale that is equal parts Robert Ludlum and David Lynch.
The titular young girl Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, The Way Back) has been trained in the wilderness by rogue agent Erik (Eric Bana, The Time Traveler’s Wife) as a ruthless killer, more capable that even her trainer had imagined. When she decides to re-enter society and take out her mother’s killer, CIA Agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett, Robin Hood), she begins to learn the terrible secrets of her origin.
Having established himself as a deft hand the costume drama/weepy film – with Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and The Soloist under his belt – Joe Wright may not seem like the obvious choice for the Bourne-junior antics of Hanna. Yet from the stunning opening photography of a winter wonderland from Alwin H. Kuchler (Sunshine), it is clear that this isn’t your average action yarn, and Wright isn’t your average director. The core narrative is reminiscent of The Long Kiss Goodnight or Salt, or even the Bourne films for that matter, as the awakening of an assassin unfurls on-screen. Yet buoyed by The Chemical Brothers thumping and sometimes jaunty score, recalling the similarly zeitgeisty tracks for Fight Club from The Dust Brothers, the combination of brutal action, luscious landscapes, surprising ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy and some genuinely touching moments, Hanna is the kind of film that sticks it in and breaks it off.
Structured as a kind of broken fairy tale, Hanna works primarily as an aesthetic achievement. This is not to say it lacks substance, for the three leads bring their considerable experience to bear on this sometimes familiar tale. Yet Kuchler’s photography is undeniably sexy, and while it would be grossly inaccurate to refer to this as style over substance, it is the style that Hanna will be remembered for in years to come. Wright has stated publicly that he was influenced by David Lynch in the making of this film, commenting to the NYTimes that “Lynch’s films are fairy tales far more than Disney’s are. It’s ironic these days that a fairy-tale ending is thought to be a happy ending, when most fairy tales are very, very dark”. He adds that Hanna is “not set in the real world, but a kind of mystical world just beyond rational perception. It’s a dream of adolescence — or a nightmare really”. Like any other ‘coming of age’ tale, Hanna allows us to witness the first faltering steps that a young girl has into adulthood, but ones taken from a childhood that was never innocent.