A blonde and austere teenage girl with a bow and arrow stalks a reindeer in the snowy wilderness; she shoots one and lands it between the reindeer’s ribs. The reindeer runs away, quickly at first, before slowing down, stumbling, and finally falling down. The girl pulls out a handgun, says, “I just missed your heart,” and shoots it dead.
Thus begins Joe Wright’s frenetic, uneven, but ultimately enjoyable Hanna. Saoirse Ronan plays the eponymous character, the teenage girl from the film’s cold open who lives with her ex-CIA agent father (Eric Bana) in the winter plains of Finland, where he is training her to be an assassin. One day, Hanna cryptically tells her father that she is “ready,” at which point he retrieves a transistor box with a single switch, and tells her that if she flips it, current CIA agent Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett) will pick up the signal and will know exactly where they are. Hanna’s mission is to kill Viegler. The switch is flipped, the CIA storms the cabin, the story begins.
And a strange and lumpy mess of a story it is. Alternating between moments of brutal unsentimentality—in other words, all the violent bits—and moments of clichéd pap—in other words, all the bits where Hanna tries to become a “real girl”—Hanna often feels like it doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. Its premise is somewhat convoluted, which adds an obstacle to the film, as we have to be told (in small and gradual increments, of course) just what is up with Hanna’s superhuman strength and agility, while the rest of the craziness is happening. The answer is somewhat underwhelming, and doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.
When Hanna works, however, it really, really works. Joe Wright’s direction here is nothing short of revelatory. The action scenes are helmed with consummate clarity and energy—Wright mostly foregoes the shaky-cam convention that’s so popular now, opting instead for a feverish and hyper-stylized visual style that makes the action scenes legitimately fun and exciting to watch. The sequence when Hanna kills Viegler’s impersonator is a memorable example; it switches breathlessly between five different security-cam angles of the interrogation room (as well as a close-up of Hanna and the impersonator) as Hanna wraps her legs around the woman and hugs her and pretends to cry. The scene frenetically gains momentum as the CIA agents watching yell “ABORT! ABORT!” inside the woman’s earpiece as she becomes increasingly frightened for her life and as Hanna keeps pretending to cry, all culminating in the moment when Hanna pulls back and breaks the woman’s neck without a second thought. Masterful work from Wright, and it’s scenes like this that make Hanna worth watching.
Hanna aims high and falls somewhat short of the mark. However, there are few stranger action movies in recent memory, and few that are this exciting. It certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s quite something.