Review: HANNA - Pulls The Trigger Just Enough

rating: 3

Joe Wright probably isn't the first director you'd think of when assigning an action thriller, what with his forays into highly-acclaimed period fare - Pride and Prejudice and Atonement - and his less-popular though still admirable dramatic work in The Soloist. However, with his new Hanna, Wright proves himself a skilled action director, handling the kinetic requirements of the admittedly fairly routine material with a deft hand, aided entirely by solid performances and a killer soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers. Hardly much in the stakes of originality, Hanna is nevertheless an entertaining ride, positioned as a more serious version of Kick-Ass, perhaps more akin to Leon in fact with its mentor-apprentice dynamic and the almost clinical nature with which their daily lives are depicted. Saorsie Ronan fills Natalie Portman's boots as the precocious titular child (albeit several years older than Portman's Mathilda) who is raised in a quasi-feral fashion by her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), before she is forced to go on the run when the authorities, led by Cate Blanchett's no-nonsense CIA agent Marissa Wengler, get wind of her existence. The opening segments are too airy and its quirky bent might alienate those expecting a torrent of comic-book inspired mayhem, but Wright adequately acquits himself in melding an art house tone with a more mainstream aesthetic and sensibility. While its mainstream appeal is dubious at best, for those interested in character and cause over consequence-free mayhem, Hanna will satisfy you; while there are several scenes of frantic action - most brilliantly a single-take showdown between Erik and a gang of goons in a Berlin underground train station - Wright reigns in the regard to character, making us care about the bond Hanna develops with a group of holiday makers - Sebastian (Jason Flemyng), Rachel (Olivia Williams), and their daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden) - before thrusting her into the dangerous scope of Wengler's killshot. The villains get a similarly meticulous thrift; Blanchett is brilliant as the smarmy, determined agent, donning an intentionally over-the-top American accent that wouldn't be remiss in a Bourne film, while also allowing the faint, almost maternal heart of her character to shine through, such that when everything collides inevitably, we care, and we believe it. The quirks - specifically the humour as embodied by Wengler's kooky hit-squad - give the film an unmistakably European air, which might bemuse some audiences, but ultimately it helps distinguish the film from the numerous works of similar ilk. While it might seem more serious and heady than other works of the genre, this is offset by the comedy and the well-peppered slices of action throughout. Ronan is especially impressive here; her casting and the age of her character is still somehow believable despite how eager the premise sounds to follow in the footsteps of Luc Besson's best-loved manic action masterpiece. If there's anything to have against it, it's simply that we've seen most of this type of thing before, albeit little often is it executed as well as with Wright's self-assured, knowingly pulpy panache, nor does it feature the bevy of game performances we have here. The slow open and generally overlong runtime work against it, but the thrilling action and occasional quirks will, however, keep you mostly entertained for the runtime; just don't expect anything revelatory and you probably won't be disappointed. The performances, the action craft and the crackling soundtrack make Hanna a fun enough ride even if it is a mere twist on the wheel rather than a particular reinvention. If anything, it makes us eager to see what Wright is going to do next; become a jack-of-all-trades auteur or continue to hone his considerable skill as an action helmer? Hanna is released in the U.K. from today.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.