With Hanna, director Joe Wright (Atonement) is trying to create something that is part art film, part international action film, and part fairy tale (Terence Malick meets Run Lola Run meets The Brothers Grimm, you might say). And, at least for its first hour or so, his strange hybrid casts an undeniable spell.
When we first meet 16-year-old Hanna (mesmerizing Saoirse Ronan) she is hunting a buck in the forest with a bow and arrow. She has wild, nearly-white hair and placid blue eyes, and she moves swiftly and stealthily after her prey. She shoots the buck, it staggers forward a few yards, and collapses, not yet dead.
“I missed your heart,” she says matter-of-factly. She then pulls out a gun and shoots the deer in the head.
Hanna is being raised in the forest by her father Erik (Eric Bana)—and he’s teaching her more than just survival skills. He’s training her to be an elite assassin and a world scholar. But he knows that their little idyll is temporary. Soon, she’ll want to leave the nest and explore the world on her own. And at that time, they both understand, a CIA agent named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) will try to kill them—if Hanna doesn’t kill her first.
Who is Hanna? Who is her father? And why is the CIA after them? This is the riddle of the film.
Erik abandons the cabin first, leaving Hanna behind to be apprehended by the CIA. But this is all part of their plan: They assume, correctly, that the CIA agents will underestimate Hanna’s strength and resourcefulness, allowing her to overtake them.
Wright nicely plays up the contrast between the natural beauty of the forest and the cold, clanging, harshness of the CIA outpost where Hanna is held. As Marissa watches remotely, Hanna calmly kills several agents—one of whom she has been led to believe is Marissa—and escapes.
“Did she turn out as you hoped?” an agent asks Marissa.
“Better,” Marissa says wistfully, watching Hanna’s lethal work.
Hanna ends up in Morocco, where she meets a petulant teenage girl (hilarious Jessica Barden) on vacation with her neo-hippie family. The girl talks so much that she doesn’t even grasp how truly peculiar Hanna is. Meanwhile, her parents (Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng) see Hanna as the strong, independent adolescent that they perhaps wish their own daughter could be.
I liked these early scenes in Morocco, but it’s not long after that Hanna goes completely off the rails. Marissa recruits a freelance assassin (Tom Hollander)—a sprightly man sporting a bad blond dye job and track suits who whistles cheerfully as he works—and his band of leering skinheads to capture Hanna. They’re cartoonish villains, barely worthy of a B-movie. Later, Hanna takes refuge with a crafty old associate of her father’s who’s actually living in the Grimm Brothers House in Berlin. (This, I suppose, is just in case the whole “it’s all a dark fairytale!” thing wasn’t quite obvious enough.)
Most disappointingly, Marissa is not revealed to be a complex and loyalty-torn adversary—the film hints that she was once in love with Erik, but doesn’t bother to explore it—but someone more generically evil. What a waste of Cate Blanchett. (Still no excuse for her horrible Southern accent, though.)
By Hanna’s end, it had pretty much worn out its welcome for me. I actually had to remind myself how much I loved the first half of the film. It’s a cautionary tale that we’ve seen in many a fairytale—sometimes when you stray too far from home, you lose your way.