'Hanna' Review: Strong Cinematography, Right-to-Life Message Makes For Exciting Film

"Adapt or die.” Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lives her life by this creed. Since she was a baby, her father Erik (Eric Bana), a rogue CIA agent, has trained her to survive anything. In their cabin above the Arctic Circle, Erik taught Hanna languages, geography, history – and how to kill. Now a teenager, Hanna is ready to leave her rugged lifestyle and see the world she’s only heard of.

But Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a high level government operative with a vendetta against Erik, will stop at nothing to kill Hanna. With Marissa and her assassins on her tail, Hanna's quest for freedom becomes a fight for survival. In the real world of hunter and hunted, Hanna's skills are put to the test, and this time, death awaits the slightest mistake.

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Joe Wright has enjoyed a successful and acclaimed directorial career, from his feature length debut with the latest “Pride and Prejudice” to the acclaimed “Atonement.” In “Hanna,” Wright's abilities shine bright. From a sterile CIA compound in the Moroccan desert to a dilapidated fairytale-themed amusement park in Germany, Wright's locational choices fit his action perfectly. And the Chemical Brothers' soundtrack complements beautifully. In one scene, Hanna wanders through a trashy subway. The strings accompanying the scene blends with the crazy babbling of the homeless Hanna passes, mixing and rising like an orchestra tuning before a performance. Hanna's fear and loneliness are perhaps at their peak here, and both are beautifully mirrored in the scene's every aspect.

Occasionally Wright's cinematographic choices overreach – one fight for instance occurs in ridiculous, unnecessary slow motion – but by and large his camerawork captures the beauty of the life and landscapes that Hanna is seeing for the first time.

Fairytales feature prominently in the film. Key scenes occur in a fairytale theme park. Hanna's only keepsakes from a mother she never knew are a strip of photo booth pictures and a warn copy of “Grimm's Fairy-tales.” Early in the film she opens the book to the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and its hardly a stretch of the imagination to see Melissa as a wolf, hungry for Hanna and her “hunter” father. I see “Hanna” as Wright's fairytale – his coming-of-age story for the generations.

Writers David Farr and Seth Lochhead, in their first feature-length script, have avoided the pitfalls of many modern writers. The dialogue between CIA professionals is clipped and punchy; between Hanna and her adoptive road family, natural and fun. For being a thriller with a pretty basic plot, “Hanna” has some good depth, comedy and imagery to supplement the story.

The acting is quite good. Ronan is a great cold-killing assassin. In a military base she kills her captors with veteran coldness, ignoring the blood spatter on her face. In an overwhelming, beautifully-shot scene where she first experiences modern technology, the assassin disappears, replaced by a frightened little girl. And she hits every emotion in between – from love to sorrow – with great feeling. She’s well supported by Bana, whose brutal instincts and tough love parenting are delicately balanced with the worry and love of a real father. Blanchett is a coy villain whose words and looks drip with seductive venom. The film is bolstered by a cast of exceptional supporting actors in original characters – from the neat to a fault villain sidekick (Tom Hollander) to the freewheeling family that Hanna falls in with as she journeys from Morocco to Germany, namely the shockingly truthful daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden).

“Hanna” also briefly raises the question of whether life is sacred. As the film progresses (SPOILER ALERT), we learn that Erik was a recruiter for the CIA, finding women at abortion clinics and convincing them to give their baby (in the embryonic stage) over to research. Under Melissa's watch, these babies were genetically enhanced to make them perfect warriors. But when the program was terminated, Melissa eradicated the experimental babies. It was a step too far for Erik, who – together with Hanna's mother, who had come to love her child – rescued the newborn Hanna. Hanna's mother died saving her. It is a straightforward handling of the issue. Erik even expresses remorse for his horrific actions, and his love for Hanna shows he means it. Of course, other viewers are welcome to draw their own conclusions, or ignore it all together.

Like any good action film, the rest of the movie is a serious plug for a culture of death as Hanna and Erik blow away their opposition. But the cinematic beauty of this film put “Hanna” a step ahead of the competition. It's a killer film that hits its mark.


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