Review: ‘Hanna’

April 15, 2011, 12:48 a.m.

Review: 'Hanna'
Courtesy of Focus Features

Part action thriller, part character study, Hanna, the latest film by director Joe Wright (best known for “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”) breaks genre boundaries and provides a fresh take on the typical Hollywood action film.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a teenager who has spent most of her life living in a desolate arctic forest, has been trained to be a ruthless killer by her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana). After convincing her father that she’s ready to take on her revenge mission — the details of which are slowly revealed over the course of the movie — she sets out on a journey that takes her from the arctic to the deserts of Morocco to Germany. Her primary target is Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a corrupt and brutally efficient CIA agent who forced Hanna and her father into hiding years before the beginning of the movie.

The compelling action sequences bolster the film and punctuate its slower, more artistic scenes. Supported by a throbbing techno soundtrack, courtesy of the Chemical Brothers, the action scenes balance Hanna’s raw emotions with her brutality and her cold, calculating demeanor. Set in environments that feel almost unreal, and employing a lot of shaky camera use à la the “Bourne” trilogy, the action scenes are thrilling and yet still convey the strong human element that is often missing in most run-of-the-mill action films.

Of course, these scenes would be nothing without Saoirse Ronan to carry them. The young actress expresses fear, rage and happiness with the most subtle of expression changes. She expertly handles the transition from cold action sequences to more warmhearted exchanges between other characters, conveying both Hanna’s maturity and lack of knowledge about real-world life.

Cate Blanchett is also excellent as the villain. She manages to combine a down-to-earth southern accent with a menacing smile and eerily perfect teeth to create one of the most chilling movie villains in recent memory.

“Hanna” is also notable for its gorgeous cinematography and attention to detail. Fans of Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” will recognize a similar style at play here — long, lingering close-ups, extended shots of nature and forwardly thinking editing. Most of the film is simply beautiful to look at. These artistic elements propel “Hanna” far beyond the realm of a simple action flick — it almost seems more like a dark fairy tale.

Although the movie’s momentum drags at times, with extended scenes with side-characters or overly-long montages, its pacing is, for the most part, solid as the story slowly unfolds. Certain scenes of comic relief, mostly centered around a vacationing family with whom Hanna takes refuge, provide welcome breaks from the intense action.

By combining beautiful cinematography with heart-pounding action sequences, Joe Wright creates a different kind of action movie that is both visually stunning and emotionally satisfying.

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