Is there a moment in your childhood that you believe had a big impact on your life? I believe one occurred for me when I was in the third grade. I was nominated to be on my school’s safety patrol which was both a big honor and a big responsibility. It also meant going on the annual safety patrol trip to Washington DC during my sixth grade year. In my mind, that trip was magical. I’d never been anywhere like it before and I dreamed of seeing the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum. I was certain my parents would sign the required permission slips; but, I was wrong. My folks didn’t think I was responsible enough to get up and catch the first bus at 6:30am, meaning they would have to get me to school by 7am. My father flatly refused to have that hanging over his head every morning and told me I couldn’t be a safety patrol officer. I tried to be strong, but I cried a river of tears as my dreams of seeing the Air and Space Museum evaporated before my eyes. I believe that disappointment made me more responsible about my time and being where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there. I’m not perfectly punctual, but I’m usually on time. Childhood is made up of lots of these defining and shaping moments that make us who we are as adults; however, most of us aren’t trained to be cold and efficient killers by our upbringing. That is, unless you are “Hanna” in this week’s movie.
Sixteen-year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) live in an isolated cabin near the Arctic Circle. It’s a Spartan existence that consists mostly of hunting, preparing the killed animal for consumption and storage, collecting firewood, studying a dozen different languages, learning hand-to-hand combat skills and becoming proficient with any number of weapons, from knives to guns. This isn’t your usual upbringing. Erik is a former CIA operative and Hanna…is something else. Hanna tells her father she is ready and he digs out a homing beacon that she can use at any time to summon agents to bring them in. Just after Hanna flips the switch, Erik leaves her alone in the cabin. She has memorized an address at which to meet Erik after she takes care of a little business: She must kill a woman named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) who used to be Erik’s handler at the CIA. Soldiers come to the cabin, capture Hanna and then she is taken to a secret base in Morocco to be questioned. She asks to speak to Marissa but another woman claiming to be Marissa is sent in. Hanna quickly kills the imposter, takes out several military guards and escapes the base. Needing to capture both Erik and Hanna, Marissa contacts Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a person who can use tactics the CIA would never allow. Isaacs and his team of killers are sent to find Hanna, while Marissa uses all the assets at her disposal to capture Erik. Marissa says Erik is a threat to national security, but that’s just a cover story for the real reason she’s chasing him and Hanna. Why are they so important and so dangerous?
“Hanna” is like the Jason Bourne movies: Neither character is quite sure about who or what they are and both are relentlessly hunted by the very powers that created them. Of course, the added twist in this film is the girl’s age. That makes “Hanna” a little awkward to watch sometimes. This young woman, who has never seen TV or heard music or seen an electric light, has been honed all her life to be a killer and is very good at dealing death. Watching her fight, whether it’s practice against her father or for her life against a ruthless thug is odd and off-putting. I suppose it’s somewhat chauvinistic to feel that way, but I couldn’t help the notion that the film was a little voyeuristic in turning a young woman into a killing machine largely for the entertainment of a male audience. Maybe I’m over thinking that aspect of the story, but it did come to mind as I watched the film.
Beyond that, “Hanna” is an exciting, if implausible, action film. While many of the fights are shot in that close-up/quick-cut style that shows very little of the actual fight, a great deal of the film is thrilling and keeps you guessing about the outcome. The audience also gets to go on a trip of discovery with Hanna as she experiences things such as television, electric lights and coffee pots for the first time. Hanna also gets to interact with someone other than her father; a British family on a caravan holiday in Morocco. She becomes friends with the obnoxious daughter of the family, Sophie (Jessica Barden) and even goes on her first date which doesn’t end particularly well. Modern life is new and sometimes overwhelming for Hanna. It speaks well of Saoirse Ronan’s acting ability that we believe Hanna is experiencing these things for the first time. While Eric Bana doesn’t have that much screen time, his character makes the most of it with a memorable performance as the rogue on the run. Continuing the annoying tradition of Brits playing southerners, Cate Blanchett is icy and dangerous as Marissa. Using her pronounced southern drawl to threaten or soothe, depending on the situation, Marissa is someone not to be underestimated. She is similar to Hanna in that regard. Tom Hollander’s Isaacs is something of the wildcard character in the film. He has the rounded look of a slightly pudgy man who doesn’t move unless it’s absolutely necessary; but the last thing you want him to do is move in your direction. He’s cruel and enjoys inflicting pain in numerous ways with whatever implement happens to be within reach. I hated his character and hoped he would die in a horrific way; which is a kind of compliment to Hollander’s acting job. It took me several hours to figure out where I’d seen Hollander before and then it occurred to me: He played Cutler Beckett, chairman of the East India Trading Company, in two of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. He’s very good at the cold, calculating socio/psychopath thing. He has a face that, given the right sneer, you almost immediately hate.
While the acting is very good, the story has some built-in weaknesses. From the beginning, some might have trouble believing a young girl, no matter how she was raised, could be such a precise and efficient killer. As the story’s secrets are revealed, it may either help or hurt your acceptance of events, depending on your point of view. I found myself rolling my eyes somewhat at the big reveal near the film’s end. It felt like an overused and cliché plot device that plays upon the fears of a public who assumes Big Brother is up to no good and out to get them. I’m not saying that isn’t true sometimes, but it’s not as common as some Internet conspiracy theorists would like you to believe.
“Hanna” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. There are several fights of various kinds along with the bloody aftermath of said fights. The sexual material is a van shown rocking with loud squeaks of its suspension implying people inside having sex. Foul language is infrequent.
Despite having to accept an implausible story and the youth of the hero, “Hanna” is an exciting film that will have you guessing right up to the final scene. I do wish it could have been a little more creative with its ultimate plot reveal.
“Hanna” gets four guitars out of five.
With the tax filing deadline looming, take your mind off all those forms and tables with a trip to the cinema. You can also tell me which film you’d like me to see and review next by voting for your choice below.
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Rio—In this animated comedy, a nerdy macaw leaves the comfort of his cage in Minnesota and heads for adventure in Rio de Janeiro.
Scream 4—The ghost-faced serial killer returns to terrorize slasher survivors Sidney, Gale, Dewey and the rest of the town of Woodsboro.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
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