All I knew about Hanna before seeing it was that Saoirse Ronan played the title character, a young girl trained to be an assassin by her father (Eric Bana), and Cate Blanchett played the “bad girl” (as my three year old would put it).
The basic premise made it unavoidable for Heroine Content. I was worried, though. I assumed dad trained Hanna to set her on one of his enemies, using her like a tool in his toolbox. Ronan’s appearance in the trailers and stills was so etheral and slightly creepy. I thought they would play her as isolated and emotionally stunted by her upbringing.
I was so wrong.
I hate to explain if you haven’t yet seen it. I hate to spoil any little bit, even non-plot aspects. But this is a review blog, so I suppose I should at least try.
First, it was refreshing to watch a taut action film with a smaller budget and no special effects. You know that I love explosions, spaceships, and aliens as much as the next girl. (Okay, probably way more than the next girl.) But those things don’t substitute for tension, danger, and drama in an action film. Hanna nails all three of those aspects. The pacing is incredible, leaving space for character development without sacrificing any momentum.
Second, Saoirse Ronan… I don’t even know what to say. She brings Hanna to life as this strong, growing, vibrant young woman who is willing to take enormous risks for freedom. Where I expected ethereal and creepy, I found affectionate and hopeful. Where I expected a tool in a toolbox, I found someone creating her own life. She doesn’t start as a victim, as too many female action roles demand. And any of her social naivete isn’t played for comedy at her expense.
The relationship between Hanna and her father also isn’t just the cold master-student training regime I had imagined. They’re both fully fleshed out human beings who obviously care about each other (though neither are big talkers.) He sacrifices his entire life so she can have the space and freedom to choose her own path instead of being controlled by other people.
The cinematography is beautiful. There is at least one single-shot scene that blew our minds (when Erik gets off the bus, through the subway fight scene.) I usually dislike soundtracks that are laid on so thick, and most of the music was something I wouldn’t care for on its own – but I loved it. My co-viewer did not was rhapsodic over the fight scenes, but said they were quite respectable.
There are a few missteps. Cate Blanchett was not as compelling as I had hoped. I spent a lot of time wondering why she was doing all this stuff. The film does give a sketch of the plot backstory, but no real insight into her personality. Given the careful portraits of Hanna and her father, Blanchett’s Marisa Wiegler seems more like a cartoon. Her henchmen also seem a little goony. Skinheads, really? A couple of scenes drag on a bit too long, like Hanna’s escape from the holding facility which seemed to loop a couple of times. But these are minor complaints against the overall quality of the film.
The cast is very white. John MacMillan plays Lewis, one of Wiegler’s agents, and he meets one of the predictable fates of any African-American fellow in a movie with guns. Did I wish for something a little better? Sure. Due to the small scale of the film, though, I’m not going to ding it for not advancing the cause of casting diversity. It didn’t include any nonsensical casting of white people where it doesn’t make sense, such as ALL of an urban population, and as far as I could tell it didn’t manage to insult anyone.
So holding that neutral, what we have is Hanna and Marisa squaring off against each other, and Hanna’s father in her court out of love, not duty, and not for his own agenda. You want to see a teenage girl grabbing agency and running with it? This is what you need.
Go see this movie, people. It’s going to lose a lot on a small screen, so I highly recommend catching it in the theater. Four stars.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.