© 2011 Ray Wong

Director Joe Wright is known for his gripping period and contemporary dramas, so a thriller about a teenage assassin seems like such a great departure for him. However, Wright's signature visual style is evident in every frame.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl who's been living in the cold country with her father Erik (Eric Bana) since she was 2. He's trained her to survive the harshest conditions, to hunt and protect herself, and knowledge taken from books. She's trained all her young life for one purpose only: to kill Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the woman who was responsible for the death of Hanna's mother (Vicky Krieps). When Hanna is ready, Erik orchestrates for her to be found by Marissa.

But Marissa is no fool. She realizes Hanna's deadly potentials, and when she's proven right, she's hot on Hanna's trail to kill her. Meanwhile, Hanna thinks she's successfully completed her mission and is on her way to reunite with her father in Berlin. Everywhere she goes, however, and unbeknownst to her, she's caused innocent people to be killed, and she's putting herself and her father in mortal danger.

When she finally arrives in Berlin, she realizes there is more that meets the eyes, and not everyone has her best interest in mind. She also discovers a dark secret with regard to her past and who she really is. Her whole life has been a lie, and Marissa is only one of her enemies, the worst of which is Hanna herself.

Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) is intense and vulnerable as the title character. Even though she plays someone who has tremendous skills and wouldn't blink to kill, she is still a teenage girl. Ronan shows a good range, from cold and calculated to curious and impressionable. She carries most of the film on her small shoulders and does a great job.

Eric Bana (The Time Traveler's Wife) is perfect as Hanna's ex-CIA-agent father. He's cool, composed, fit, but shows genuinely loving feelings toward Hanna. Now, we're not completely sure of his motive, and that makes his character a complicated one. But that's a good thing. Cate Blanchett (Robin Hood) is chillingly fantastic as the cold-blooded Marissa. She's likely one of the most impressive villains in recent thrillers, and yet she shows a moment of vulnerability in a scene where she's about to murder an elderly woman. That kind of juxtaposition is what makes her character even more fascinating.

Tom Hollander (The Soloist) plays a flamboyant killer with relish. It's nice to see him out of his period clothes to play a contemporary bad guy (although, he still seems to be stuck playing a bad guy most of the time). John MacMillan (Heartless) doesn't have much to do as Marissa's associate who questions her actions. Olivia Williams (The Ghostwriter) is great as the free-spirited mother who unfortunately gets entangled with Hanna.

Written by Seth Lochead and David Farr (MI-5), the screenplay is unabashedly thrilling and brutal. It opens with Batman Begins-esque training scenes, suffused with intrigue and mystery. The characters, especially Hanna, are well drawn, even though their backgrounds are not always known. However, there are a few clunky flashbacks to help flesh out the backstories. There are also certain inconsistency and plot holes that mars the story for me. For example, it's inconceivable that Erik would train Hanna all her life just to leave her to the wolves to do a dirty job, without teaching her about human behaviors and relations. It seems rather short-sighted. Also, certain aspects of the storytelling borders on absurd and outrageous: Erik treks all over Antarctica with only a business suit on? What is that about?

That said, the plot has a good pace, and is rather taut and intense. After a while, it does feel a bit derivative as Hanna starts to question who she really is. We've seen that quite a bit in thrillers about assassins and secret agents: Salt and Bourne Identity to name a few. Hanna's story is a bit far-fetched and requires a good dosage of suspension of disbelief.

The strength of the movie belongs to the solid performances of the actors and Joe Wright's (The Soloist) direction. Mr. Wright is one of the most lauded visual stylists in Hollywood these days. The camerawork is arresting: he knows how to tell a story just by using the cameras and lighting. The location shots add to the authenticity of the film. The grungy, techno-inspired soundtrack gives the film an industrial feel. The production is handsome and well put together.

Hanna is a good film with solid performances and direction, and a script that is tight and interesting. However, while I enjoy it, I can't say it's one of Joe Wright's best works. There's a strange detachment to it that makes it harder for me to feel for any of these characters. I think Hanna herself would agree.

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, John MacMillan, Vicky Krieps, Olivia Williams
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Seth Lockhead, David Farr
Distributor: Focus
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual material and language
Running Time: 111 minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8

Total – 7.6 out of 10

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