Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Hanna
The classic princess fairytale is currently being thoroughly deconstructed and reassembled for the modern movie audience, and so far the results have been a mix of spot-on modern sensibility (Tangled) or, more often, a spotty patchwork of undercooked ideas (Alice In Wonderland, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch).
Out of this struggle to find a new way to spin the “damsel in distress” tale comes Hanna, director Joe Wright’s (Atonement) unique vision of the fairytale princess reinvented as Jason Bourne.
The plot is classic fairytale with a modern edge: Once upon a time, a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lived with her father, a former CIA agent (Eric Bana), in the forest. Daddy taught daughter everything he knew and trained her to be the best little warrior she could be, so that one day she would be ready to face an evil CIA agent named Marissa Wiegler, who had been searching high and low across the land for the young girl and her father.
When the young girl starts to come of age, she decides to venture out into the big bad world beyond the nice little bubble she grew up in, in order to slay the evil agent pursuing her. But the evil CIA agent and her henchman have Hanna in their sights as well – and if she doesn’t get them first, they will get her…and her daddy, too.
If you don’t see the fairytale parallels yet, just replace the words “young girl” with “young princess,” “former CIA agent” with “kindly king/hunter” and “evil CIA agent” with “evil queen” or “big bad wolf.” See it now? However, fairytales have never been as action-packed as Hanna is.
The idea of Cinderella or (more specifically) Little Red Riding Hood being re-imagined as a teenage assassin is creative enough, but director Joe Wright takes things a step further in the right direction by actually filming this movie in the modernized style of a fairytale. This makes a delicious bit of sense, considering that Hanna views the real world as a fairytale land: a strange place she’s only heard about from the encyclopedias her daddy used to read her.
One scene (Hanna’s stay in a shoddy hotel) hammers this real world/fairytale world juxtaposition home with hilarious results; when Hanna is making her escape from a government facility early on in the film, the camera spins in circles, just as the young heroine’s world is spinning out of control (a classic fairytale movie trope). On the whole, the film is a tightly-edited patchwork of visual iconography, allusion and symbolism – just like you would find in the illustrations of a Brothers Grimm fairytale. The fantastical tone of the film also plays well when juxtaposed to the more grounded, grittier moments of action and violence – of which there are plenty.
Any good fairytale odyssey is a mix of the lovely, the scary and the strange, and Wright wisely includes all three along Hanna’s journey of self-discovery. Tim Burton and Catherine Hardwicke tried to create such fairytale worlds in Alice In Wonderland and Red Riding Hood, respectively; however, neither of those hollow realms engaged the eye like this wonderful, slightly twisted world that Joe Wright creates with little more than some keen camera framing and some smart location scouting. He essentially transforms the real world into a fairytale world, just as Hanna sees it. A brilliant tactic for this particular film.
The cast does a stellar job of selling what could’ve otherwise been a hokey mashup of genres. Saoirse Ronan got her big break working with Joe Wright on Atonement, and clearly the pair have a strong bond as far as bringing out the best in one another. Director and star are totally in synch in terms of their vision for the film: Ronan plays Hanna with that wide-eyed and innocent worldly fascination you would imagine Rapunzel had when she eventually escaped the tower. But instead of long flowing hair, Hanna is packing some seriously kick-ass martial arts skills.
Ronan handles the physical challenges of her role so gracefully and easily that it’s hard not to believe that this pale, lanky, teenage girl could snap your neck in real life. Every action sequence she performs will likely make you either raise your eyebrows or drop your jaw in delight. In short: Ronan makes Angelina Jolie’s Salt performance look downright forced and hammy. This girl has a future doing action movies if she wants to pursue it.
Eric Bana is a solid actor, and here he is, yet again, solid in his performance as Hanna’s father – although his understated affections are a bit too understated to give the father/daughter dynamic a whole lot of poignancy. That’s okay, though: it would be reductive to turn this sort of femme-powered fairytale into a cliche about a young girl and her daddy issues.
There are a couple of familiar faces that turn up in supporting roles, but the two standouts for sure are Tom Hollander (Godsford Park) as Isaacs, Marissa Wiegler’s evil henchman, and young Jessica Barden (Tamara Drewe) as a young girl named Sophie, who Hanna befriends. Barden definitely steals nearly every scene she’s in (bringing needed levity to the fantastical proceedings), and her and Ronan together are better than most teen buddy flicks you’re likely to encounter any time soon.
Of course by now it’s no revelation to say that Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses working in the business. Her evil queen/Big Bad Wolf mix of a CIA agent is a purring Southern Belle with impeccable shoes and a neurotic obsession with keeping her perfect teeth clean, while keeping her well-manicured hands bloody. Truly a great villain in the sense of both a fairytale and an action/espionage movie (not an easy mix to pull off).
Finally, the soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers deserves tons of recognition. The Electronica duo’s bass-thumping tunes meld perfectly with some light airy princess melodies, firmly cementing the unorthodox marriage of spy-action and fairytale aesthetic the film is aiming for. The music doesn’t just add to the movie – in this case the music helps make the movie. Without The Chemical Brothers’ tracks, this would’ve been a different (read: far less enjoyable) experience altogether.
All in all, Hanna is a truly fresh, unique, and exciting genre mashup. In an era where so many filmmakers are “re-imagining” things – ultimately in ways we’ve seen before, or ways that feel more hollow than imaginative – this film is a rare, and welcome, gem.
Check out the trailer for Hanna: