Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hanna Movie Review

I like genre blending stories. They can juxtapose storytelling tropes that ordinarily wouldn’t go together and by proximity they take on a new, interesting quality. Shaolin Soccer, for example, combined a sports movie with a Kung Fu movie and made a very extraordinary and entertaining movie. Hanna (2011) combined the cat-and-mouse chase spy movie with subtle elements of a fairy tale, giving us a fascinating movie.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a unique teenage girl. She has the strength, stamina, and the smarts of a soldier. These skills come from being raised by her father, Erik (Eric Bana) an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of Finland. Living a life unlike any other teenager, her upbringing and training have been one and the same; all geared to making her a perfect assassin. The turning point in her adolescent life is a sharp one; sent out into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna Journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). But as Hanna nears her target, she is faced with startling revelations about her existence and some disturbing questions about her humanity.
Hanna is a foreign film; a British-German action thriller with some subtle fairy tale qualities to it. These aren’t really overt; they are just subtle enough to make you think of a fairy tale allegory while enjoying some great action scenes. You can imagine a young princess being raised secluded from dangers in the world by her father, you can picture the prowling big bad wolf henchman who is stalking the innocent little girl as she travels through a strange environment, you can also easily picture Marissa as the wicked step mother wanting to stop the young princess, or even kill her. Even Hanna’s character is like a blend of Black Widow from The Avengers and Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled. She’s a highly intelligent killing machine that exhibits a naïve sense of awe and wonder as she explores the world she has been cut off from. There isn’t really any magic or fantasy element in Hanna; it really is an action spy movie. But the beautifully subtle parallels to some of Grimm’s cautionary tales are hard to ignore.
The action sequences were remarkably well shot and choreographed. There was no real shaky cam to obscure the action; everything was meaningfully filmed and gave us a very clear image of what was happening. The director, Joe Wright, proves to us that action doesn’t need to be mindless. Even during scenes that are largely CGI and no actual human bodies are present, they are still well choreographed, making some truly beautiful action scenes.
There were a few times when the camera is following Hanna as she leaps, crawls, and flips around obstacles and she simply disappears from the shot and then turns a corner back into the same shot. It develops Hanna’s character by showing us that she is thinking a step or two ahead of us and is faster than our eye can keep up with. In several scenes in the movie, there were very long, sweeping shots that were remarkably well filmed. In one instance, Eric is arriving at an airport and the camera follows him from the terminal to a subway without any cuts. As we watch him walk from different angles we see CIA agents obscured from his vision but not from ours as they close in on him. The cinematography really is impressive in Hanna and it keeps it interesting.
A lot of action movies (and fairy tale movies for that matter) have over-the-top fantasy violence. Has anyone ever thought a James Bond movie was realistic? Hanna remains pretty well grounded, though, especially when she repeatedly encounters an ordinary British family on vacation. The family has a daughter named Sophie (Jessica Barden) who is probably the first girl her age that Hanna has ever met, and Sophie’s family is the first normal family she has ever seen. Scenes with the family are usually humorous, but it adds a touch of reality to the story that keeps the movie from going too far overboard in its own action-based exuberance.
As foreign films go, Hanna was quite good. The only bad thing I can say about it is it left a few loose ends unresolved. I didn’t get the feeling it was hoping for a sequel, but if the movie had gone maybe 5 more minutes to establish just a little more closure, it would have been perfect. There’s still something disquieting about a little girl who has been made into a ruthless killing machine; that alone says something about our views of gender roles. How would we have felt if Hanna was a 16-year-old boy?  Still, it’s great to see a strong female protagonist in a lead role. I liked Hanna, and I recommend seeing it. I didn’t love it enough to want my own copy, but it was well worth renting. Also, you should watch more foreign films.

What is your favorite cat-and-mouse style chase movie? Is it a spy movie like James Bond? Is it a sci-fi action movie like Predator? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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