Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: "Hanna" (2011)

"Hanna" just came out in theaters. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), it is an action thriller about how much it sucks to be created to be a killing machine. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is literally that - a genetically altered human machine, brought up and trained by her father (Eric Bana) for one purpose - to kill a CIA agent named Marissa Viegler. From the snow-covered house in the forest where Hanna is raised to the Big Bad Wolf parallels, fairy-tale imagery is everywhere.

"You're dead." says her father, who has snuck up on Hanna while she is gutting a deer. "I've killed you." With a feral scream, Hanna attacks her father, just as he's trained her to do. We immediately see that her life has been nothing but training, training, and training. Yet there's no sadness for the 'normal' life she could have had - because she's never known anything else. Finally, as her father instructs, she presses a button on a radio transmitter that will tell Marissa where she is - She's ready.

What unfolds from there is a terrifying display of what Hanna is capable of - she quickly and brutally destroys security guards 3 times her size, and escapes from a secure CIA facility as if she were swatting a fly. But the film really starts to get interesting when Hanna happens upon a British tourist family - and with some surprising moments of levity, gets her first exposure to 'the real world.'

There's a lot more to this film than meets the eye at first glance. It's a very well shot action film, and an intense emotional mood piece. It's a tone poem of violence but also a fairy-tale inspired journey - a quest for freedom. Marissa turns into the wicked witch or the evil stepmother and her hired hand becomes the Big Bad Wolf - and you realized that Hanna is not going to get this freedom until the wicked witch is dead.

I would be doing a disservice if I were not to mention the Chemical Brothers' musical contribution here. Eerie and bleak at times, pulsing and intensely rhythmic at others - yet beautiful at the moments of wonder and joy as hanna learns about the world - of simple humanity, of music, and of friendship. It sounds unlike any soundtrack you've heard before.

From what I've read, director Joe Wright wanted to deconstruct the idea of young girls in action heroine roles - so he created a film that isn't exploitative and isn't 'sexy' and instead went for the character story. It's violent, it's intense, but it never becomes vulgar or mindless. It's not created for kids, and if you have a weak stomach, you may not want to subject yourself to this experience. But it is not sensationalized and the characters are true, and they are explored for their humanity. The result is rather beautiful.

SPOILERS BELOW! If you have not seen this film, please read no further.

I feel like I must add this, because I was off-put by it at first, and I'd like to offer what I've gleaned from thinking on it.

At first I was surprised at the final shot of the film - and the oddness of the smash-cut to the title, once again. The first obvious thing that you think of is the call-back to the opening title, when Hanna kills the deer. You could take that to mean that the hunter (Marissa) has become the hunted. It's a shocking sensation to see, but that's actually a good thing - the sight of a young girl killing without emotion ALWAYS SHOULD BE shocking to us. That means the film is doing a good job.

But back to the odd title placement. If you think about it, that title only appears in two places - both of them at the immediate point of death as Hanna kills her target. The gunshot and the projection of her name over blood red background creates an interesting connection - killing IS her identity. She was created to be a killing machine, and even her final act, an act that will essentially give her her freedom, is an act of murder. But it's not sensationalized, not glorified. It is not only done out of self-preservation, it's done with empathy. "I just missed your heart." She says, and politely puts an end to the suffering of her victim.

No comments: