In the first scene of Hanna, opening today, director Joe Wright’s camera lingers lovingly on the angelic face of Hanna (The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan) as the teen girl hunts through a pristine white-shrouded forest. Her sky blue eyes against her pale face and even paler snow are mesmerizing. By the end of the movie, however, the audience will wish Wright would get over her already. It feels like a lifetime was wiled away gazing at her confused yet clear eyes as they size up yet another opponent. It’s only one overdone thing in a movie that starts fresh but veers to clichéd excess by the end.
Hanna has grown up isolated in the forest with her father Erik (Eric Bana). Some sort of spy and assassin, Erik fled with his infant daughter when all heck broke loose. He didn’t even pause to pack a comb, apparently, because her blond curls are a glorious mass of tangled beauty which the camera examines in many lights and angles. She has never known another human being and has only the wolves for friends. Erik didn’t neglect her education, however. Hanna spouts book knowledge at an alarming rate and can match her dad blow for blow in death-match style tussles.
At sixteen, she’s ready to take on the world. Her coming out party, however, necessarily includes the revenge killing of an American spy ringmaster named Marissa (Cate Blanchett), after which Erik and Hanna will reunite in Berlin. Erik has a grudge against Marissa, which is just fine because Marissa, with her exaggerated Southern accent and amoral thirst for power, has just moved killing Erik and capturing Hanna to the top of her own to-do list. To that end, she enlists a creepy German operative named Issacs who has found work moonlighting running an oddball sexual peepshow when murder-for-hire jobs run thin.
The German (played with ambiguous sexuality by Tom Hollander), and his neo-Nazi thugs are the perfect symbol of what is wrong with this movie. Wright, a British director, decided to use every tired European banality of filmmaking. Not only do we get a cartoonish but quirky German thugs and an overdrawn drawling CIA agent with a thirst for blood. The sound track is the most obvious clue to Continental pretentions. It’s all odd noises and clanging, discordant sounds that can sometimes hardly be called music, but is always supremely irritating. The first big battle takes place in an improbable concrete bunker with convenient Hanna-sized air ducts and odd corridors to nowhere. (It reminded me of the classic scene in the spoofGalaxy Quest in which Sigourney Weaver’s character objects to having to cross a room with random mallets crashing from the ceiling, something that would never occur on a space ship. “This episode is badly written!” she wails.) A later battle takes place – you guessed it – in an abandoned and run down amusement park. With a particularly European eye for the quirkily grotesque, the fairy tale houses, swan cars, and plastic mushrooms serve as a metaphor for….well, something I’m sure.
The film works best after Hanna escapes that first unlikely compound and finds herself in the Moroccan desert. She befriends a family of touring Brits, complete with overeducated feminist mother, overly sensitive father, tabloid obsessed teen girl, and a sweet little boy. The movie morphs into a sort of travelogue, with Hanna in wide-eyed wonder as she experiences the civilization about which she has only read. Everything is new, from a light switch to a first kiss. The family, contrary to all the other characters in the film, radiate with contradictions and nuance like real people. They’re warmly funny and humorously emotional.
Of course, the nasty American and the odd German can’t let that journey go on. The audience is dragged back into brutal fight scenes, with the German and Erik and Hanna and good ole’ Marissa pounding the stuffing out of each other as the magical abandoned mushrooms spin and the music goes “Whirrr-clang-clang” in the background. It’s all supposed to add up to some morality tale about the dangers of a rampant military machine going out of control, but really, it adds up to a disappointment.
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