Joe Wright’s Hanna is something of a curio. It’s every inch an action thriller—with a slight sci-fi bent—but it’s also very much the product of an art-house sensibility. In other words, it’s exactly what you might expect with the director of Atonement (2007) let loose on an action picture. That’s both the good news and the bad news. It means that Hanna is one of the most gorgeously constructed and stylish action movies ever to come along. It also means that it’s all a little on the genteel side—a bit too controlled for its own good—especially within the safety of its PG-13 confines. If ever a movie needed to go just a little further than it does in terms of excess, Hannah is that film.
I don’t mean to give the impression that Hanna isn’t a good film, because it most certainly is a good film. It’s also notable as a surprisingly coherent action film. You’ll find no trace of the modern tendency to rapidly cut together a jumble of close-up frenzy where you have no clue what’s going on or who’s doing what to whom and call it an action scene. All the action here makes perfect physical sense. That’s a huge plus, but it also feels like it’s part and parcel of the film’s somewhat-too-careful approach, which tends to blunt the element of surprise. And that’s not a good thing in an action thriller. It becomes a pretty big issue toward the end of the movie—once the story gets past the revelation about Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) that the trailer strongly hints at—to the degree that anyone with a memory ought to be able to guess exactly where things are going and how the film will end.
All these reservations—which really come down to variations on one reservation—to one side, what we have here is a stylish, entertaining and often downright quirky film that pleases far more than it doesn’t. It takes a very simple premise—16-year-old, highly trained assassin Hanna leaves the safety of her northern wilderness hideout and is pursued by ruthless CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett) and her decidedly non-government murderous minions—and spins out for nearly two hours without much in the way of dead space. The film’s embellishments—including Hanna’s funny/touching encounter with a family of traveling Brits and their sexually precocious daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden, Tamara Drewe)—keep it all interesting. The fact that the film is approached as a somewhat twisted fairy tale—with Blanchett as wicked stepmother and her equally fantasticated henchmen (Tom Hollander’s whistling killer feels like a riff on Peter Lorre’s child murderer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 M)—only adds to the fascination. (This is especially true in its last act, set appropriately in a rundown amusement park.)
Imperfect it is, but Hanna has enough wit, style and drive to make it one of the more compelling films to come along this year, though I somehow doubt it’s a film that will really hold up to—or be improved by—subsequent viewings. Even if it is a case of “once is enough,” there’s so much out there that complaining about it seems churlish. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language.