Watching Eric Heller (Eric Bana) dismantle four agents is very much a pleasurable experience. I do not use the word dismantle lightly. While James Bond might be charming, watching him beat up thugs is like watching a man try to take a watch apart by slamming it on the ground. Watching Eric Heller, on the other hand, is like watching a watchmaker deliberately separate all the pieces. His movements waste no motion, no energy. His sole intent is the disabling of his pursuers, and when he’s done with them, they don’t even twitch.
When the movie opens, we see Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) in brief flashes amid the snowy landscape. She’s hunting a reindeer, and so moves quickly and silently from one location to another. When the deer goes down, Hanna is there to cut it open. She’s like her father—deadly, efficient, and merciless. She’s been trained that way so that when the time comes she can find and kill Marissa Wiegler (played chillingly by Cate Blanchett). But she’s also a young girl with a fascination with everything and everyone, her young exuberance shining through at every moment. You can train a girl to be an assassin, but she’s still going to have the heart of a young girl.
This naïve wonder, this curiosity towards the world, is handled brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan. Much of the movie involves not only Hanna’s hunt for Marissa Wiegler but also her growth in a world she has never seen. For me, this character development was handled well, maybe not perfectly, but with an amount of competence. There is a certain charm to the way Hanna responds to questions (when asked about what her mother died of, Hanna simply says, “Three bullets”) and her strength makes that charm all the more endearing.
I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been watching movies with heroines that are kind of weird (Jane Eyre, Babydoll from Sucker Punch) but Hanna really appealed to me as a truly strong girl. She’s not a falsely steely-eyed assassin like Marissa Wiegler. Her heart, despite everything, is pure. This purity is what I loved most about the film, the way her heart is free and full of light, the way that despite everything she has to do to survive, she can still admire a run-down amusement park as magical. This is especially striking when one considers the two counter characters of Marissa Wiegler and Eric Heller. Eric is a weary soul, just tired of it all, while Marissa Wiegler is a woman afraid—but we are not really given a glimpse of what that fear is.
Before I start complaining, I want to spend some time praising the acting. Every single member of the case was exemplary, but Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana are especially worth noting because they manage to hold their own against the marvelous lightness of Saoirse Ronan’s performance. Cate Blanchett adopts a southern drawl that grates against Wiegler’s steel spine—Wiegler’s affected sweetness is brutally drowned in her vicious movements. In one scene, she angrily screws on a silencer in preparation for a cold-blooded assassination. She’s angry because her target is not afraid, and that anger is not satisfied until the victim in lying in a pool of blood. Then a hint of pleasure shivers through her voice, as she says in German, “Just like her mother.”
Eric Bana is simply cool, in all senses of the word. When fighting, his actions are smooth, brutal to the point of beauty. When he speaks, though, we get the hint of gentleness that is so missing in Wiegler’s character. In one pivotal scene, after a long fight, we see his weary face brighten with pride as he says something about Hanna. From the very beginning, we see his connection with Hanna, the desire to protect her conflicting with his desire to set her free.
But despite the excellent acting, something about the story simply does not ring true. I believe the characters—as they are in the time depicted in the movie. But I can’t accept their motivations. What drives Wiegler? Shame? Guilt? Fear? Why does Eric Heller hide in the first place?
The ending, cycling back, will be immediately recognizable. The time in between—the growth and the interaction of characters, was worthwhile, a little world contained. I just wish I could believe the world outside those borders.
PS—There is more to say, but just watch the movie first.
Because it had the most votes on our monthly poll, and because it looked damn badass, Orion and I went to see “Hanna” this week. The trailer summarizes the premise pretty well: Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl trained to kill a woman named Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett); she has grown up her whole life in the Arctic forests with father figure Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Now, set loose into the world to kill Marissa, she struggles to come to terms with the brave new world around her, and is constantly on the run from men who want to capture her.
The best part of “Hanna” was undoubtedly the action scenes. A quick tempo, heart pounding music, and crispy choreographed fighting all led to a level of tension that I could barely believe. Reminiscent of fights from “The Bourne Identity,” “Hanna” is full of chase scenes that truly inspire adrenaline. If “Hanna” were nothing but these action scenes, it would be an undoubted 5/5.
Unfortunately, the pure speed and rhythm of action scenes are constantly interrupted by a vain attempt to show Hanna’s integration into normal society. She meets a touring family, and briefly befriends the tween daughter, who takes her out and uses words like “vomitorium.” I think that alone makes it clear that whoever wrote the story wasn’t in his right head. Furthermore, the film attempts to sketch in a science fiction backstory, with something being strange about Hanna’s DNA. This backstory is terrible, filled with weak points and feels last minute, as if writers were barreling through the script the night before their deadline. These poorly drawn stories then cast doubt onto otherwise excellent characters, and corrupt great performances with nonsensical and incoherent histories.
In terms of the performances, everyone was great. Eric Bana was likewise great as Erik Heller, coming off as ultracompetent in some senses, while weak in others; what faults the character has comes, as aforementioned, from the thin design. At one moment, Erik Heller is far-seeing, knowing that one day Hanna will grow up and become unsatisfied with the solitary, woodsy lifestyle that Erik has built for her. At the next moment, he fails to see what obvious obstacles Hanna would have integrating into the world. Again, this is not Bana’s fault, and I think he did his best with what he had.
Cate Blanchett played CIA agent Marissa Viegler, and her personality reminded me of Tilda Swinton’s role in “Michael Clayton.” She had an excellent witch-smile, fitting the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale theme that director Joe Wright struggled to work in. As expected, Saoirse Ronan was an excellent cold, ruthless yet naïve assassin. She has the same nuance and believability we saw in “Atonement,” although her character’s actual situation borders on absurd. The fact that she was able to convince us to like Hanna in lieu of the terrible story really says a lot.
I really, really wish the story of “Hanna” were better – I want so much to like the movie, to be able to recommend it for more than just excellent action. I wanted Hanna to grow as a character, and I wanted strong themes to weave through the movie, growing themselves into lessons for viewers to reap. Unfortunately, all attempts at meaning fall through: in the beginning of the movie, Erik reads to Hanna from an encyclopedia about “music,” and Hanna replies that she wants to see it for herself. Each time Hanna hears music, we are reminded of this statement; likewise, a scene at the end parallels a scene from the beginning, but it is just too exactly. Such heavy-handedness is intolerable to me, because it gives no credit to the movie-viewer.
Overall – 4/5, the action scenes are so good that they balance out the terrible storyline, but just barely so. I recommend it!