Hanna | Joe Wright, 2011
Before anything else, let’s look at the careers of some of the key players in this film.
- Saoirse Ronan: In her short career, she has been nominated for an Academy Award for her scene-stealing performance in Atonement. She also gave acclaimed performances in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones and Peter Weir’s The Way Back.
- Cate Blanchett: Won an Oscar for her performance as Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Received more nominations for her work in Elizabeth, Notes on a Scandal, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and I’m Not There (the latter two happening in the same year). She is the definition of a great and classy actress.
- Eric Bana: Good actor, always reliable in any role. Has brushed with stardom, but never quite got there. He seems to be all right with that.
- Joe Wright: Made a great directorial debut with his fresh take on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and got people to take Keira Knightley seriously. He followed that up with his World War II love story Atonement, for which he gained even more acclaim and showed that he was here to stay. He stumbled when he made The Soloist, but the script was way too ordinary for him, and his style didn’t really fit the story.
Now, look at those names and the basic summary of their careers. Are those the names that you would associate with the best action film in years? No they are not (I know Bana was in The Hulk, but let’s not bring that up). When I saw the trailer I was taken aback by the oddness of it, not just the plot, but also because these people usually known for prestige or small dramas were doing something that is usually reserved for the likes of Michael Bay and young actors looking for their 15 minutes of fame. The idea was so crazy that it had to work, and it did. The result was the best action movie since The Bourne Ultimatum.
In Hanna, Ronan plays the title character. She lives with her father Eric Heller (Bana) in a city just below the Arctic Circle. There, he teaches her how to hunt, how to fight, many different languages, and pretty much everything. He is doing this because for years they have been hiding from Marissa Wiegler(Blanchett), a CIA agent wanting to finish something that she started many years ago. And so, once Hanna is ready, she will be able to choose when she wants to go out after Marissa. Once she does, all hell breaks loose.
The reason why I think this is such a great movie has a lot to do with Wright’s work. Much like when Paul Greengrass did The Bourne Supremacy, he shows how his abilities as an “art film” director helped him in this new venture. He doesn’t really go for the frantic and chaotic look and feel of a Michael Bay film. It looks as beautiful as his previous films, showing us the great scenery of the various locales where the movie takes place, from the desserts of Morocco to the run down streets of Berlin. Also, he knows how important characters and small, quiet moments are for every film, even those whose main purpose we usually think is to blow stuff up real good. He took his time to develop the characters and to give them time to breath, therefore increasing our emotional attachment to them and making the action more thrilling.
And most importantly he knows how to film action. There is plenty of editing during the action scenes, but he doesn’t over do it like in most American action films. Had it not been for the control he has over the action scenes, and his experience with long takes in Pride & Prejudice and especially Atonement, we would not have gotten to experience the great tracking shot that happens in a subway station.
Another great decision of his is the casting. I’ve already pointed out how odd it is, but that is why it works. Saoirse Ronan takes this role extremely seriously and kicks all kinds of ass. Her performance will no doubt remain one of my favorites of the year. Eric Bana is like I said, always reliable, and it is no different here. He gets his chance to be badass and he doesn’t disappoint. And my beloved Cate Blanchet… From the evil-looking red hair, her facial expressions, and her odd southern accent, reminiscent of that of a certain Dr. Phil, she shows how to do scenery-chewing right. There are also great supporting turns from the rest of the actors like the lovely Olivia Williams as the matriarch of a family that is traveling across Europe that Hanna runs into, and from Tom Hollander, as a sleazy thug that Marissa hires to catch the girl.
Wright’s production team is also excellent. I wasn’t sure how the director would fare without his regular cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, but Alwin Kuchler was definitely up to the task. Thanks to his lensing he helped craft a movie that is as beautiful as the director’s previous efforts. The art direction and costume designs are top not as expected. And if there is justice in the world, The Chemical Brothers will get an Oscar nomination for their score for this movie. It is much better than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s work on The Social Network, which deservedly won the Oscar earlier this year.
Finally, I must praise the writers, Seth Lochead and David Farr. Sure, the movie doesn’t have the most original plot and the twist is not that shocking, but they make up for it in other departments. Every character is fully developed and has a unique and interesting personality. None of the details throughout the film feels superfluous. The dialogue is great and engaging. And the bookends of the film are freaking fantastic.
Hanna is easily the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. It may seem like faint praise given what has come out but this is a serious candidate to remain on my top 10 of the year. I can’t wait to watch it again.