Sixteen, but not so sweet
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 8, 2011
Talk about the dangers of home schooling. The mesmerizing heroine of “Hanna” — a semi-feral 16-year-old raised by her stay-at-home dad in the permafrost forests of Finland — can rattle off facts and figures about anatomy and geography in seven languages, but she’s also a ruthless killing machine. To be fair, it’s not all her father’s fault, in this intense but imperfect thriller from director Joe Wright.
The single most compelling reason to see “Hanna” is Hanna herself. As played by Saoirse Ronan, who made her first big splash as another morally challenged youngster in Wright’s 2007 “Atonement,” the character is a fascinating and frustrating cipher. Trained in hand-to-hand combat, survival skills, evasive maneuvers and gun handling, she drives the movie forward with a watchability that’s as compulsive as it is propulsive. She’s so diverting that it’s easy to overlook the movie’s flaws.
There are more than a few, starting with the switch Hanna flips — quite literally — to start the action rolling. One minute she and her father Erik (Eric Bana) are bow-hunting caribou and engaging in mixed martial arts play in the snow, and the next Hanna has activated some kind of electronic homing beacon that tells the movie’s bad girl, Marissa Wiegler (a gloriously over-the-top Cate Blanchett), just where to find them. And when I say “find them,” I mean “chopper in with a SWAT team and try to kill them.”
Why, exactly, does Hanna do that when, as her father points out, they have all they need right there? Hanna knows that Marissa — an equally ruthless agent of some unnamed CIA-like U.S. government agency — will descend on her, stopping only when one or the other of them is dead. That’s the first thing Erik taught his daughter.
In the meantime, however, Wright has come up with one heck of an excuse to go to the multiplex. In short order, “Hanna” turns into a classic popcorn movie, subclassification: chase flick. Eat with one hand, because you’ll need the other to hang on to your seat, as the film lunges from Finland to Morocco to Spain to Germany, where Erik and his daughter have agreed to rendezvous. The cinematography is eye-popping, culminating in a surreal sequence set in a derelict Berlin amusement park.
Who exactly is Hanna? And why does Marissa want her so badly? Those are just a couple of the film’s many mysteries, which writers Seth Lochhead and David Farr unravel at just the right pace. There’s also some welcome comic relief, courtesy of an English family on holiday that Hanna hitches a ride with. Jessica Barden (so wonderful in “Tamara Drewe”) is a treat as the family’s smart-mouthed teenage daughter and, briefly, Hanna’s first real friend.
One mystery the film doesn’t handle so well: Why should we care? Ronan makes about as much of Hanna as she can, given the character’s strange heartlessness. But there’s a troubling emptiness at the center of the movie, too. For a while at least, the best thing about it isn’t Marissa’s globetrotting hunt for Hanna, but Hanna’s search for herself.
Is it a great movie? No. Nagging questions and plot holes start appearing the minute the endorphins and adrenaline wear off.
But it isn’t a bad one, either. At one point, someone asks Marissa — who has a compelling reason to care what kind of person Hanna turns into — whether the girl we see in the movie turned out like Marissa had hoped. “Better,” she says icily.
In balance, I’d agree.
Contains violence and brief obscenity. In English and several other languages, with occasional subtitles.