Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Hanna is an action thriller film released in 2011 and was directed by Joe Wright. The film is the story of a young girl raised in isolation by her father and trained to become a deadly assassin who finds herself pursued by villainous forces. The film also includes strong thematic elements resembling a dark fairy-tale and also features a soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett with the likes of Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander and Michelle Dockery in supporting roles. Released to a positive response from critics, the film would go on to earn $65.3 million worldwide (more than double the film's budget) and lead to a TV series based on the film released in February 2019.
What's it about?
In the remote wilderness of Finland, fifteen year old Hanna Heller has been raised by her father Erik who is an ex-CIA agent formerly based in Germany. Erik has been training Hanna from the age of two to become one of the deadliest assassin's in the world, being highly proficient in hand-to-hand combat and with firearms. Erik knows a secret that he cannot allow to fall into the public domain as well as knowing that he and Hanna will be pursued by senior CIA operative Marissa Wiegler. As far as Hanna knows, she has been trained with the sole purpose of killing Marissa.
After declaring Hanna ready for the challenges to come, Erik activates a radio beacon that he knows will bring their location to Marissa's attention. With Erik escaping and telling Hanna to meet him in Berlin, Hanna quickly finds herself surrounded and ready to take the battle to their ill-prepared enemies. Initially overwhelmed, she finds herself relying on her sense of self survival as well as her considerable combat abilities to take the fight to the CIA.
Seth Lochhead & David Farr*
Release Date (UK)
6th May, 2011
Action, Drama, Thriller
What's to like?
There are no shortage of films featuring a female protagonist in the lead of an action movie, from Angelina Jolie's gutsy performance in Salt to Salma Hayek's trigger-happy title role in the disappointing Everly. Trouble is, they all seem to be fairly similar to one another but Hanna feels very different. There is a slight element of fantasy to proceedings, both in terms of locations and cinematography, that gives the film a dream-like atmosphere. Combined with the pulsating soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers (which I heartily endorse), the film does a great job of reminded us that Hanna herself is still just a child who is finding her way in the world like the rest of us. Her journey to adulthood is just a touch bloodier, that's all.
Ronan does a decent job of staring at this cruel world with wide-eyed innocence but doesn't quite convince in the action scenes. Blanchett, as the sharp-suited Wicked Witch from the West, is deliciously duplicitous and seems to enjoy being cast as a baddie, much like her performance as the pantomime Soviet Irina Spalko in the disastrous Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. The film's action isn't particularly memorable - the opening scenes are the best - but the film is more of a journey than a bullet-laden bonanza. It almost seems to deliberate eschew reality or the more glamorous side of international action jaunts. This is something to be savoured and it doesn't dumb itself down so you have to fill in the blanks yourself.
- Ronan filmed the majority of her stunts but it wasn't without extreme effort. The role required her to study combat tactics under the tutelage of Dan Inosanto (a protégé of Bruce Lee) in four-hour intense training sessions at his gym in LA for two months.
- The project was initially developed back in 2009 between screenwriter Lochhead and director Danny Boyle. After Boyle and Alfonso Cuarón passed on the job, it was Ronan who convinced the producers to hire Wright.
- One of the .22 pistols seen in the film is a Russian Margolin Olympic target pistol, used as the basis for Princess Leia's blaster in the Star Wars series. The other is a Luger .22 which was used as inspiration for Jyn Erso's blaster in Rogue One.
What's not to like?
I've already mentioned how the film's action scenes aren't particularly memorable and in a sense, they're not actually that important. Yes, it makes Hanna an exciting and thrilling escapade as she continues to evade capture but the film is more about this young girl approaching adulthood than it is simply giving a girl a machine gun. Anyone expecting a blast-a-minute thrill-ride will be bitterly disappointed with this film which has its moments but too often drifts off into fantasy and ethereal metaphors. I loved it but I know plenty of people who will wonder what on earth it's all about and when it is going to get exciting.
But it's that unusualness that I admire the most about Hanna. It could have played it safe and doubtless, it would have blended in with other films of this type. Even the casting of Ronan feels like a gamble, despite her evident skills as an actress. Yes, it's slower than many action films and the action itself - while competent - isn't especially memorable. But it's a beautiful film to watch with a central performance that completely bowls you over and hooks you in. I also disagree with those who thought the film's narrative was too old-fashioned - it's supposed to be a fairy-tale, which are old-fashioned by nature. Think of it as an updated Cinderella or Snow White except this time, our heroine is fighting for herself without the need for wish-granting fairies or a group of dwarven miners.
Should I watch it?
Hanna won't be to everyone's tastes but if you are looking for something a little different, this film is well worth taking a look at. It's a deeply atmospheric and intriguing picture, if a little uneven at times. But it's brave enough to take chances and not pander to the mass market, defiantly sticking to its unusual take on a familiar style of movie. If you want to be challenged then this is the action film for you. If you just want mindless violence, perhaps look elsewhere.
Great For: residents of Berlin, anyone looking for something different, feral young women raised in the remotest pasts of Finland, people who think Bjork is a genius
Not So Great For: traditional action fans, anyone who doesn't like The Chemical Brothers, misogynists
What else should I watch?
Personally, I love the fact that Hanna feels so different to countless other action films with a female lead because they are usually underserved by the films themselves. The likes of Haywire, Salt, Everly and Lucy do a decent enough job of putting women in the spotlight in action movies but they don't do enough to stand out from an overcrowded genre. Perhaps the one I was most disappointed with was Colombiana, a spiritual sequel to Leon (one of my all-time favourite films) written and co-produced by Luc Besson and featuring the sultry Zoe Saldana as the young woman out to avenge her dead parents. All the ingredients were there but for some reason, none of them gelled.
However, there are still some fine examples where the ladies take the lead. The Long Kiss Goodnight is a much-underrated action thriller with the winning combination of Geena Davis and Samuel L Jackson in the leads, Shane Black producing the screenplay and Renny Harlin in the director's chair. Besson is no stranger to the girls-with-guns sub-genre with arguably his most well-known film being Nikita, a film that would lead to Bridget Fonda appearing in the remake Point Of No Return. Underworld features Kate Beckinsale in extremely tight leather battling vampires and werewolves and while she rarely uses guns, Uma Thurman's epic revenge tale Kill Bill features plenty of kung-fu and swordplay so gore hounds will be satisfied in no small measure.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox