Living alone with her father Erik (Eric Bana) in a snowy forest high above the Arctic Circle, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is much like any other teenage girl. If that teenage girl has been trained from birth to be the ultimate assassin and taught to survive under the most extreme conditions. She’s a crack shot, an expert martial artist and fluent in a dozen languages. But like most teenage girls Hanna has questions about who she is, about the outside world, about her place in it. Questions her father is reluctant to answer.
So he digs up a radio transponder and presents her with a stark choice: they can continue to live in harsh but idyllic solitude honing their hand-to hand combat skills or Hanna can activate the transponder, alerting the CIA to their presence, ensuring their world will never be the same again. Erik is a former spy, the CIA has been hunting them since Hanna was a baby and he’s been preparing her for a very special mission. Despite her father’s fears, Hanna activates the transponder and, after seemingly being abandoned by Erik, is soon captured by an American Special Forces team who spirit her away to an underground facility for questioning. But Hanna has her own plan; one which involves avenging her dead mother by killing Erik’s former boss, CIA agent and ice queen Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Escaping her captors, Hanna finds herself adrift in a world that’s completely alien to her where she must adapt or die.
A stylish collision between a Grimm fairytale and The Bourne Identity, Hanna is, superficially, the last film you’d expect from the sedate director of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. All however feature strong, not immediately likeable, female protagonists navigating the treacherous waters of adulthood. Aided by a thumping, heart-pulsing score by the Chemical Brothers, Wright has fashioned a cool, subtle, utterly involving throwback to classic conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s like Three Days Of The Condor and The Parallax View, mixing in a dreamy dollop of fairytale. Beginning in a snowbound, frozen wilderness where the heroine lives with her father in a storybook, gingerbread cottage, Hanna is a classic fairytale where the heroine must triumph over evil through the acquisition of knowledge and through sacrifice, with Cate Blanchett’s CIA agent a Lady MacBeth-like wicked stepmother, casually murdering the heroine’s gran and ordering the deaths of infants while obsessively cleaning her teeth until they bleed.
The blistering action scenes are brutal, bruising affairs with the elfin Ronan beating the living excrement out of her homoerotic skinhead yob pursuers and a stunning one-take sequence where Bana faces off against a quartet of assassins in a Berlin Underground station but the heart of the film is the awakening humanity of Ronan’s Hanna as she is exposed to the outside world. Imprisoned in a stark, underground prison, she escapes in an explosion of precision violence, snapping necks, slashing throats and shooting her way to freedom only to find herself marooned in the Moroccan desert. The sequence is stunning and the transition from icy forest to clinical government facility to wild desert is jarring leaving both Hanna and the audience overwhelmed. Befriending haughty, holidaying British teen Sophie (Jessica Barden) and her middle class, Guardian-reading hippy parents (Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams), Hanna has her first glimpse of the normal life she has been denied and for the first time forms relationships with real people.
Ronan’s wide-eyed wonder as Sophie takes Hanna under her wing is perfectly played, both girls sweetly conveying the flush of a girl-crush as they become instant BFFs. Williams and Flemyng are smugly annoying and heroic in equal measure as the middle class parents who unquestioningly take Hanna in and both Bana and Blanchett are excellent as Hanna’s protective father/mentor and rogue CIA agent respectively while Tom Hollander’s perverse, bleach-blond tracksuited assassin Isaacs (we first meet him in a seedy sex club choreographing a show between a dwarf and a pre-op transsexual while casually taking on the mission to capture Hanna) and his gang of gay skinhead thugs are a refreshingly camp but real threat to the heroine’s safety as they play cat-and-mouse across Europe. Always the best thing in her previous films, in Hanna Saoirse Ronan finally gets the chance to take centre stage and here carries the film with a touching, luminous performance that flows naturally from cold-blooded killing machine to newborn innocent, more than holding her own among the film’s more experienced players.
Part high-tech fairytale, part arthouse spy flick, Hanna delivers the thrills and spills you expect from a Hollywood action movie without dumbing down the emotional and moral complexities of the story and characters. While it may run out of steam a little towards the end, the film is a refreshingly intelligent, adrenaline-pumping ride with a satisfying circularity to the narrative that brings you right back to where you came in. Classy and exciting, Joe Wright may just have pulled off the impossible with Hanna and made a smart Summer blockbuster.
Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden
Seth Lochhead, David Farr