Blu-Ray Review: Hanna - An Intense Hyper-Sensory Fairytale About Growing Up

Even better on repeat viewings, this is a fine change to re-live one of the year's most unique and entertaining films.

From the vengeful "Bride" of the Kill Bill films to the assorted girly heroines Zack Synder's Sucker Punch, violent actioners featuring female protagonists are an increasingly common sight at the multiplex. Few eyebrows were raised then, in the age of Kick-Ass, when Hanna came out earlier this year - a film about a teenage girl brought up as a deadly killer. But whilst the vast majority of silver screen heroines are really just scantily-clad male fantasy figures - strong characters in only the most superficial sense - Hanna is the real deal. The impressive Saoirse Ronan, who was Oscar-nominated as a 13 year-old for her her role in Atonement - also directed by Joe Wright, stars as the title character raised as a killer in an icy wilderness and tasked by her father (Eric Bana) with killing the secret agent (Cate Blanchett) who drove them into hiding in the girl's infancy. She quickly performs this task (or so she thinks) and then ends up on the run from the American military, as well as a bizarre group of German skinheads lead by an extremely camp Tom Hollander. The film centres primarily on Hanna's awakening as a fully-fledged individual (rather than just a killing machine): it's a coming of age story for Hanna as a woman and a film about the awkwardness of teenage years in general. But the film also explores the ideas of motherhood via Blanchett's interactions with various figures in the young girl's life: her mother; her father; her grandmother. Behind Blanchett's pursuit of Hanna there is an engaging ambiguity. The suggestion is made at one point that she can't herself have children. Does she really want to mother Hanna? Or destroy her? Far from simply existing as a take-it-or-leave-it subtext, these themes compliment the film's many intense moments of action and visa versa. Violence is almost always married to the thrill of experience and the development of character. However, music is one of the stars of this movie. The first time we hear anything of the intricate, energetic Chemical Brothers score is when Hanna makes a conscious decision to leave the safety of life with he father and accept her deadly mission. The music makes her anxiety and excitement palpable, and every time we hear it subsequently - such as when she is escaping from a military facility in a spectacularly choreographed light show - it forms part of a hyper-stylised representation of Hanna's psyche. When soldiers surround her log cabin near the start of the film, the score stands for the nervous anticipation of first contact with people other than her father. In this way Hanna is an example of proper cinema which, rather than being a slave to dialogue, tells its story through the harmonious marriage of sound and image - and with magnificent economy. There is a terrific internationalist air to proceedings too as Hanna alternates between languages and goes through several countries over the course of her journey. Wright also manages to pull off something very rarely seen, as a kiss between Hanna and a girl she befriends (played by the terrifically funny Jessica Barden, who also shone in Tamara Drewe) manages to avoid seeming gratuitous or cynically motivated. In fact Hanna's relationship with Barden's character is not even really sexualised in spite of this tenderly shot moment: it functions more as part of her character's longing for new experiences and human contact, played out with the only person with whom she establishes a bond of trust. The cinematography and art design are likewise tremendous and beautiful - especially when it comes to outdoor sequences bathed in naturalistic light and the warm fire-lit interiors of Hanna's cabin during the opening sections. In similar style to Wright's much-heralded Dunkirk tracking shot in Atonement, much of the film's action is also shot in long unbroken takes, which makes for a refreshing change from other fast-cutting action movies. Here the fight choreography is really given the room to breathe it deserves. For some, the middle section of the film (in which Hanna goes on a road trip with a nice middle class family) might seem at odds with the pacing and the tightness of the earliest sections and the finale - and they may have a point, given the expectation of a straight thriller. But to make this assessment would be to miss the point of what Hanna actually is. It's a hyper-sensory fairytale where action is secondary to character development, in which Hanna's interaction with non-violent people and her discovery of friendship is every bit as important as any scene of neck-snapping or gun-wielding. It's The American from the perspective of a curious, confused and highly capable young girl, rather than a middle-aged, world-weary man. This is what makes the film stand apart from the superficial "girl power" crowd. Hanna is the real deal.


It's fitting that one of the year's outstanding films comes with some of the year's most intriguing special features. Around an hour of documentaries and deleted scenes is included, whilst the disc also boasts a feature commentary by Joe Wright. Wright is articulate and intelligent, yet his constant "umming" during the commentary is distracting. However, there is a degree of insight on the filmmaking process here which is often lacking elsewhere, as the director goes beyond back-slapping and platitudes to tell us how his confidence shooting action improved during the making of the film, with the first fight scene (between Bana and Ronan) shot more traditionally than the more breathtaking stuff later on. Yet the director is much better in targeted doses, as in the five "making of" features which detail the conception of the score, the plot and the stunts, as well as looking in detail at thematic choices, such as Wright's decision to paint the film as a fairytale (with Blanchett as the wicked witch in red and green and Bana as the earthy woodcutter). There aren't many deleted scenes, but that's hardly surprising considering the triumph of discipline and economy the film is. Wright evidently didn't shoot too much more than he needed to and as a result the scenes on show here include a wisely cut extended ending, a long edit of the internet cafe sequence (again, wisely chopped down in the film) and a needless shot showing Hanna smuggling herself into a family's camper van (a bit of business instead transmitted via one line of dialogue). They aren't especially long by the standards of some blu-ray documentaries, but - like the film itself - they are high on substance and refuse to outstay their welcome. Hanna is released today on Blu-Ray.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.