Sunday, April 10, 2011

Love: Hanna

In the days since I saw Hanna, I've been trying to figure out exactly where it is the film falls. It's harder than appearances (and first impressions) might suggest.  On the one hand, it's quite obvious that Hanna is a slick little chase thriller.  In some ways, when casually juxtaposed against your typical running, jumping, shooting, killing actioners, Hanna seems to possess a definite poise; an indie sensibility over concerned with gritty artistry and a touch of realistic character development.  This is, of course, at the same time that Hanna is a variation on the norm.  Killer kid, genetic manipulation, ice cold government agents, loose plots, and a fair amount of choreographed fight scenes: nothing you haven't seen before.  When you get right down to it, the film's joy is derived from a very base, guilty pleasure place.  A place where it doesn't matter whether the story holds up if the body count keeps rising, the jokes are well timed, and the adrenaline never ceases its flow.  Is Hanna a guilty pleasure?  In some ways.  But, you see, you might never notice.

The thing about Hanna is that it's a relentless, sparkling bit of entertainment.  It speeds by, ending seemingly before it's even begun, never drawing out its affairs or keeping its ADD viewers in one place for too long.  Here's the rare wall to wall action flick that never feels repetitive, is stocked with competent actors in odd little character roles, and which manages to give us not one, but two ladies who would be worthy foes for Kick-Ass's Hit Girl.    So, yeah, some might say it's a guilty pleasure.  I can see how it could fall into that categorization.  Sure. But you know what?  Fuck that noise.  Hanna is more than a damn cool, bass-pulsing flick about folks with guns.   It's a morally ambiguous Bourne for girls who are sick of watching movies with muscular action figure prototypes for leads and buxom, irrationally leather-clad chicks for heroines.
Saoirse Ronan stars as our young, cold blooded imp of death.  The opening scenes establish a life off the grid;  in an icy forest where (like Hit Girl) she's prepped for survival.  We don't know why, exactly.  All we know is that if she flicks that switch,  she'll trigger a signal to attract those who want her dead.  If it were up to me?  I wouldn't flick the switch.  Hanna, though, is ready.  She's braced for combat and waiting, apparently, to exact her revenge on the woman we learn (in fragments) is responsible for the murder of her mother so many years prior. Pay no attention to why Hanna and her father (Eric Bana) would have this box.  Don't ask too many questions about where they are or why they couldn't sneak back into civilization and take action.  Just understand that this is the action that drives the film. You wanted a chase?  You'll get one.  Hanna switches scenery the way a high class prostitute turns tricks: fast, and often.  From the forest of snow we switch to an underground compound to a Moroccan desert to a bazaar to Spain to camper parks to Germany to an abandoned amusement park and so on.  Here, there, everywhere.  Along the way, we get to know Hanna via an odd couple friendship with a tourist girl her age (Jessica Barden) and her slightly kooky family.  Ronan gives her child soldier some real soul.  She's present in every scene, filled with hope outside of her circumstance and a lingering naivete that goes against her training. She's the sort of young actress who can guarantee that you still like her dangerously callous character even as she's slitting someone's throat.  Her face runs on a hair trigger.  In one moment, she's an almost normal little girl, in another, she's a machine.  Maybe that's what talent looks like.

The real driving force, however, and probably my favorite screen villain since Javier Bardem wore a pageboy wig, is the positively vicious Cate Blanchett.  As ruthless operative Marissa, Blanchett is bizarrely watchable.  I loved to hate everything about her and their were actually points at which her eyes conveyed something so dead, so horribly robotic, she managed to drift far away from Elizabeth I to become convincingly terrifying.  Blanchett plays Marissa with a definite strength, pushing her far from the crooked law(wo)man archetype and transforming her into an evil sort of force, someone who you actually believe can take you down in Prada heels and who will given the first opportunity.  She will kill you and your family without a flinch, but maybe with a Southern belle smile.  Eegads.  Did I mention her little henchman is a Germanic Tom Hollander in an out of date track suit?  He's a sort of Bond villain or Lebowski nihilist, a Eurotrash piece of shit for whom your repulsion knows no bounds.  Hollander's sociopath scumbag will stand right next to Marissa and tear you apart with a giggle.  It's kind of amazing.

The long and short of it is that Hanna is gifted with a cast, a director (Joe Wright), and a score (Chemical Brothers, anyone?) working together to pull it up out of the silly travel murder mire.  It is, in many ways, electrifying; eliciting occasional laughs, cheers, and gasps from its audience in such an easy manner that it feels like, well, child's play.

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