Style and Violence Clash in Saoirse Ronan’s ‘Hanna’

Hanna is a 2011 action movie about a sixteen-year-old girl who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin, now tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.

With Saoirse Ronan getting all kinds of love for her work in the recent Lady Bird, I started thumbing through the back catalog and found myself curiously eyeing this little action movie from Joe Wright called Hanna. You may have heard of it. Young girl kicks butt. It came and went in a blip, doing meh at the box office and getting the standard run of mixed reviews, most pretty positive, praising the direction and action. I kinda liked it in theaters. It’s got that cinema feel about it, you know, big, loud, lots of things moving about. I admit, I sort of appreciated it more this second time, especially given Ronan’s work. Let’s take a look.

Hannah
Hannah, 2011 © Focus Features

The story follows Hanna Heller (Ronan), a fifteen-year-old girl who has spent her whole life getting trained by her ex-CIA father Erik (Eric Bana) to be the world’s greatest assassin. And he’s done a good job. She knows all the ropes, and the knots, and is ready for the worst, of which Erik explains is a thing that’s definitely gonna happen. See, there’s this button on a box that when pressed, will alert the CIA and woman named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who really, really badly wants Erik dead. Seems he has a secret she doesn’t want others to know. Thing is, he’s been training his daughter to kill Marissa when that happens. So, what does Hannah do? Presses the button and … boom. Time for a show.

Hannah
Hanna, 2011 © Focus Features

I really liked the beginning of Hanna. It starts with an elk and an arrow. An arrow right into its chest. The hunter? Hanna, covered in fur and looking like a specimen living in a time when she’d go back and draw the whole experience on the inside of a cave. She gives the animal chase through a  beautiful snow-covered field, having just missed the creature’s heart. She apologizes lovingly and then … puts a bullet in its head. It’s cold and calculated, deliberate and yet purposeful. She recognizes her mistake and without remorse or second thought, ends it. The juxtaposition of a large animal and a young girl killing and gutting it is already jarring, but then, well, she’s not done yet. She suddenly gets attacked from behind. A man (we learn after is Erik) brutally comes at her and she fights him back as best she can, eventually losing the match and told, as penance of sorts, to carry the buck back on her own.

Hanna
Hanna, 2011 © Focus Features

The whole opening moments of the film are the best as we follow her back to the rustic cabin in the woods and learn of her father’s survival training. It’s a nice setup, the ambiguity eliciting plenty of questions while we discover how intelligent she is. But also, how the isolation has left her without social skills, something that becomes issue later. Once that button is pushed, things shift and the film becomes a man(girl?)hunt, where Hanna, out in the open, explores a world she’s never known, but one where she is a high level target, albeit a very, very dangerous one. Deadly in fact.

Wright, who’s not really known for action (he directed Ronan in Atonement), stages plenty of good moments, even as it gets decidedly strange once Hanna, now in Morocco, runs into an an English couple and their kids vacationing in the area. While everything in the woods is gritty and authentic, everything beyond is wildly over-stylized, like a cross between a Luc Besson film and a Jason Bourne adventure. That’s not to say it’s bad. Truth is, once you accept the madness, as German sadomasochistic agents and skinheads get in on the hunt, things get pretty stylish. Wright has a certain flare for the mix, toting us around the unusual as Hanna has her eyes opened to the real world and leaves a string of bodied behind.

Hanna
Hanna, 2011 © Focus Features

Like most in the genre, the violence is fast and furious, with Hanna offing predators with surgical precision. She’s not exactly “aware”, like the aforementioned Bourne, but she does have the reaction speed of a darting hummingbird and the prowess of lion. What’s cool though is that she’s still just a sixteen-year-old girl and as such, sees things through maturing eyes. When a boy wants himself a kiss, well, he does get something he won’t forget.

Hanna might have benefitted from a more realistic approach, the characters certainly primed for it and the start gearing us up for such, yet the film is much more a fantastical comic book come to life. Ronan is really good however, perfectly cast and, as she proves time and time again, a highly versatile performer that makes it endlessly easy to fall for. Packed with all kinds of good stunt work, excellent fight choreography (one being a sequence with Bana in a parking garage) and a pumped up soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, Hanna still delivers, making it well worth a second look.

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