Joe Wright established himself immediately as a director to be reckoned with following his first two films "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement." Wright brought a visual flair that isn't generally found in historical romantic dramas and became known for his trademark uncut tracking shots. Cinephiles knew the moment Wright turned his hand to the action genre, the results would be something special.
Inspired by fairy tale folklore, "Hanna" takes elements from the stories of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood (among others) and transplants them into a globe-trotting Jason Bourne-style actioner. The Brothers Grimm by way of Luc Besson.
Saoirse Ronan (who was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 13 for her role in "Atonement") stars as Hanna, a young girl raised in the snowy wilderness of Finland by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), a rogue assassin. Heller trained her in survival skills, hand-to-hand combat, foreign languages, and firearms. Hanna's bedtime stories are readings from what sounds like a discount encyclopedia. Father-daughter bonding sessions consist of Heller sneaking up and trying to kill her. Baby bird can't stay in the nest forever and Hanna embarks on her journey into womanhood…by murdering her father's enemies.
Hanna's primary target is Cate Blanchett as CIA official Marissa Viegler, the evil stepmother of the story. The Wicked Witch of the Neo-Cons, Viegler sports a bob of dark red hair, classy pant suits, and designer high heels. Yes, the devil truly does wear Prada. Heller flips a switch and alerts Viegler of their whereabouts. Heller flees while Hanna allows herself to be captured. Hanna escapes from custody and hitches a ride with a hippie family (the parents played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) putting from Morocco to Spain in a beat-up Volkswagen van. Forced to take extreme measures to capture the girl and kill Heller, Viegler hires a loony Euro-trash hitman named Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his two skinhead henchmen.
As expected, "Hanna" is an exceptionally stylish film utilizing techniques such as varying camera angles and jump cuts. Hanna's escape from a CIA holding facility is the film's most exciting sequence and Wright dips heavily into the "Run Lola Run" playbook. The set piece becomes a music video unto its own, punctuated by the throbbing electronic score by the Chemical Brothers. The editing is fast-paced and the camera spins around and around, coming at viewer at almost every angle. Sometimes it feels like Wright is simply showing off, but he thankfully stays away from the overused shaky handheld shots. Of course, he doesn't forget the long take as the camera follows Heller into a subway stop where he battles a group of armed henchmen. The action is crisp and superbly staged by veteran fight coordinator Jeff Imada, who employs a similar style to the one he used in the "Bourne" pictures.
The movie isn't always about kinetic action scenes, there's a sense of tragedy and sweetness beneath the brutality of Hanna's story. The outside world becomes Hanna's own wonderland as she meets other people and hears music for the first time. But, she has never encountered modern technology before either. A short stay in a hotel room becomes a nightmare of sensory overload due to nothing more than a television and an electric kettle. Less frightening is the subplot involving Hanna's friendship with the family's daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden), the first person her own age she's ever met. Sophie is the stereotypical gum-chewing teenager and becomes fast friends with this oddball stray. This leads to Hanna's first awkward (and surprisingly funny) encounter with an amorous Spanish boy.
"Hanna" isn't bereft of problems. A gaping plot hole emerges when Hanna learns nearly everything about her background, her father, and top secret government projects in an internet café. This is in spite of the fact that she had an earlier freak out over a TV. The movie is also lacking a physically imposing villain, who might stand a chance against the superior fighting skills of the protagonists. The effete Isaacs isn't going to cut it. He's got a bad tan and wears eyeliner and velour tracksuits. Ludicrous fashion sense aside, once you see the stubby way in which he runs, you will be incapable of taking Hollander seriously as a bad guy. With her thick Texas drawl, Cate Blanchett comes off a little cartoonish as well. Most of the film's over-the-top elements might be excused as a means to craft a modernized fairy tale. However, the point is driven in far too bluntly with a finale set in a run-down storybook amusement park.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This is a stunning transfer with every exotic location given their due. You can almost see each individual snowflake that touches Hanna's cheek. The orange deserts of Morocco and the lush green forests of Germany are all well represented.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is a luscious sound mix capped by the pulse-pounding music of the Chemical Brothers. Their infectious beats are exceptionally sweet and act as a strong contrast to the hard hitting and bone cracking fight sequences. The Blu-Ray also comes with dubbed Spanish and French tracks in DTS-HD MA 5.1.
Director Joe Wright provides an informative audio commentary and doesn't drift off into long lulls of silence. Wright discusses the development of the story and its fairy tale elements as well as insights into the filming process, the cast, and the music.
Adapt or Die (13:15) is a look at the shooting of some of the film's action sequences and the intense training Saoirse Ronan went through to prepare for them.
Central Intelligence Allegory (8:54) focuses on the development of the story and how fairy tale elements were incorporated into a modern world of espionage.
Chemical Reaction (6:06) is about the creation of the film's soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers, which began with the creepy tune whistled by Tom Hollander.
Anatomy of a Scene: The Escape from Camp G (3:10) features scene-specific commentary from Joe Wright along with a look at the storyboards to show how Hanna's escape was filmed.
The Wide World of Hanna (2:12) is a look at the various locations used in the movie.
Hanna Promo (1:28) is a trailer for the film.
The Blu-Ray also includes an alternate ending, a collection of deleted scenes, and a code for a digital copy download.
"I just missed your heart…"
There's something prophetic about that piece of dialogue used as the opening and closing lines of "Hanna." She misses the mark from time to time, but still forcefully hits the target. "Hanna" is a dynamic action movie and stands as one of my favorite films of the year.