Universal // 2011 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 5th, 2011
Adapt or die.
"I just missed your heart."
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) is a 16-year-old girl who has spent her childhood in the Finland wilderness with her father Erik (Eric Bana, Funny People). Under Erik's guidance, Hanna has learned dozens of languages, memorized encyclopedias, perfected complicated combat moves and has become a skilled hunter. However, she has not experienced the modern world outside her primitive home. Erik's hope is to start a new life in modern society with his daughter, but he can't do that until he deals with a savage figure from his past: the relentless CIA Agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal). Erik will do everything within his power to execute his strategy successfully, but a huge part of his plan depends on Hanna. Will her impressive training and remarkable ability be enough, or will the challenges of adapting to the many quirks of modern life overwhelm her?
Hanna must surely rank as one of the most peculiar films of 2011, a strange mash-up of Luc Besson and Sergio Leone filtered through the sensibilities of The Brothers Grimm. We've seen a lot of wearisome cinematic updatings of classic fairy tales in recent years (Beastly, Red Riding Hood), but director Joe Wright (working from a screenplay by Seth Farr and David Lochhead) has gleefully incorporated a host of familiar fairy tales archetypes and images into his own his own wild, original concoction. Yes, that's the same Joe Wright who gave us Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist; this time plunging into vastly different territory while retaining his customary visual grace and depth of feeling.
Like many fairy tales, Hanna tells the story of a young girl thrown out of her familiar surroundings and forced to deal with a variety of obstacles. She receives a great deal of training and support from Erik (whom Wright describes as "The Woodcutter"-type figure of the film), but ultimately is required to face these obstacles on her own. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett's Marissa Wiegler is clearly intended as the wicked witch/evil queen/nasty stepmother figure of the piece, aided by Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End) as her endlessly creepy henchman. There are quite a few allusions to classic fairy tales littered throughout the film, but the subdued references presented early on give way to more blatant imagery during the film's final 20 minutes or so (which is set within the confines of a broken-down fairy tale-themed amusement park and contains the indelible image of Blanchett marching out of the mouth of a giant Big Bad Wolf).
Wright's well-staged action sequences (particularly Hanna's escape from a large government compound) manage to fuse kinetic thrills with atypical artfulness, as Wright brings an almost balletic fluidity to the scenes of kicking, punching, running and shooting (the same could be said of the action films of John Woo or Zack Snyder, but Wright puts his own distinctive stamp on the material and makes the notion feel fresh again). He embraces the film's pulpier elements, but gives even the silliest material the same measure of thoughtful, expressive consideration that he would bring to a prestigious literary adaptation.
If Wright seems a odd (though entirely satisfactory) choice of director for Hanna during its early moments, the film's quieter second act reveals why he was the right man for the job. Despite its moments of stylish action and sci-fi kookiness, Hanna takes a lengthy, affecting detour during its extended midsection. As Hanna enters the real world, Wright provides us with a moving, absorbing portrait of sensory overload: what may seem a relatively ordinary setting to us seems impossibly fast-paced and noisy to a girl who has spent her entire life in the desolate wilderness. In one masterful Jeunet-esque sequence, Hanna finds herself increasingly terrified by the building noises (a dripping faucet, a whirring ceiling fan, a static-filled television) in her run-down hotel room. Wright successfully makes the familiar seem foreign, and allows us to see the world through fresh eyes. Some of this material may inspire memories of Wright's The Soloist, in which Wright attempted to find distinctive ways to visually express a blind man's enjoyment of music.
Though Hanna is initially terrified by the the technology this strange new world has to offer, she is intoxicated by the diversity and warmth. In a handful of lovingly-shot sequences, Wright allows us to follow Hanna through a Moroccan gypsy camp, even pausing for a lovely song-and-dance interlude in which Hanna discovers the joy of music (something she has unfortunately been deprived of throughout her youth). It's in the camp that she meets a family of British hippies (led by Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer and Jason Flemyng, Stardust), who take Hanna under their wing and offer an amusing, much smaller-scale mirror image of the over-the-top family dynamic shared by Erik, Hanna and Marissa (to the degree that petty bickering can mirror ferocious shoot-outs, at least -- both sets of adults have disagreements on how the child they care about should be raised).
Hanna has received a gorgeous hi-def transfer, allowing viewers to fully appreciate the countless breathtaking visuals the film has to offer. This is one of the best-looking action films of recent years; there's rarely a scene which doesn't contain some wonderful camera angle or memorable visual flourish. The level of detail is spectacular, and the color palette is warm, bold and vibrant. Blacks are richly inky while shadow delineation impresses as well (there are a few darker scenes which really benefit from this). While certain shots do look rather grainy or soft, these are due to stylistic choices rather than to any transfer weaknesses (softness is employed in particularly effective fashion from time to time). Audio is even better, as Hanna delivers a riveting mix which will push your speaker system to the limits. The faint nuances of the early scenes (which employ spare but very detailed sound design) are superbly mixed, and the action scenes backed by aggressive electronica courtesy of The Chemical Brothers pack a massive wallop. You might have to adjust the audio here and there (the action scenes are pretty loud in contrast to some quieter dialogue moments), but this is an excellent mix which serves as a thrilling audio experience.
The supplements are typical but solid: an audio commentary with Wright, who once again turns in a solid, detailed track which proves a rewarding listening experience. He's not the most charismatic person in the world, but he never allows the track to suffer from lengthy gaps and he consistently has something informative to say. Well done, sir. Also included are some brief but worthwhile featurettes ("Adapt or Die," "Central Intelligence Allegory," "Chemical Reaction" and "Anatomy of an Action Scene" -- these run just over 30 minutes combined), some deleted scenes, an alternate ending (wisely snipped), two very short EPK promos, BD-Live, My Scenes and a digital copy.
The aforementioned dip into science fiction territory during the third act is a bit frustrating. While Wright notes in the supplements that he considers the sci-fi element (which I won't spoil for you) purely a handy plot device, the actual idea is presented in a rushed fashion and feels even sillier than it might have as a result. It's the only area of the film which feels undercooked and unsure of itself
Hanna is a tremendously entertaining thriller, but its meaty ideas and rich visual design ensure that there's plenty of repeat viewing incentive. The fact that the Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific makes this one an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* My Scenes