I walked into Hanna not really know what to expect other than it was about a girl raised in the forest being chased by American secret agents. In essence, that’s what the film is about. Hanna is raised in the forest in Finland just south of the Arctic Circle by her father. The open scene of the film shows Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) chasing a caribou and taking it down before she is “caught” by her father, which is just another day in his physical training of her. They battle it out in the snow before he throws her to the ground next to the dead caribou. She must take it back to camp alone upon where she promises to do better tomorrow, in nearly half a dozen languages randomly demanded by her father.
Erik Heller (Eric Bana) isn’t a cruel caretaker, however. While watching the beginning of this movie, you get a sense of pure equality between father and daughter. He does love her. He is essentially training her to be independent and to have the ability to defend herself. He is also her teacher and she excels when it comes to book smarts. Geography, languages, facts about basic aspects of life, and their assumed life if she is ever caught and forced to talk; right down to including mention of her two best friends and her dog Trudy. What Hanna doesn’t know is what all of this training and self-defence is for. But when given the choice to flip a switch that throws her from the desolate winter forest into the middle of society, she knows she is wanted by the wrong people and that’s when the film truly begins.
What make Hanna a beautiful film is in part the way it was filmed. Director Joe Wright could have approached the story from pretty much any angle. It could have been a serious thriller in the vain of last year’s Inception, a pure action movie, maybe a slasher film, or even a comedy but instead it encompasses elements of all of these and adds in some sensitive family moments between Hanna and Erik, but it’s definitely not a family-drama in that sense. When Hanna decides to go forward with flipping the switch that makes agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) aware of their whereabouts, she and her father are decidedly separated with plans to meet in Berlin. It’s getting there that the bulk of the movie is based on.
While the film is serious in nature, Wright doesn’t take it too seriously. There’s a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle comical instances throughout the film, particularly in scenes with Sophie (Jessica Barden) who befriends Hanna during a family vacation and invites her to tag along while Hanna is secretly on the run from U.S. secret agents. While these scenes add nothing to the overall plot, the fact that they’re included tells a lot about the approach of the film that I don’t think many Hollywood directors would have given the time of day for. Wiegler’s go-to man Issacs (Tom Hollander), whom she hires to find Hanna, is overtly gay with his choice of short-shorts and track suits as he and his henchmen close in on Hanna. Definitely not the typical persona of such a character but for some reason, the role is not surprising here.
What makes this movie shine is a combination of different things. Of course there’s the direction under Wright, the story itself written by Seth Lockhead, but there’s also the great cinematography by Alvin A. Kulcher during the chase scenes and the incredible soundtrack provided by the Chemical Brothers. However, the greatest achievement of Hanna is with Saoirse Ronan playing the role of Hanna. The emotive qualities she possesses throughout the entire film is incredible, even when there is none to be had. Hanna is raised from toddler-hood until the present in the forest with no human interaction other than her father so of course her social abilities are limited, even if her intelligence in other areas isn’t. Mouthing off facts and lines from books she’s read to an Arab man and later to Sophie is both amusing and awkward. What makes it all the more impressive is that Ronan, who’s most recent film was The Lovely Bones (2009) is going to be 17 on April 12th.
Hanna as a movie has few limits, both as a presentation and for a spectator. From the viewer’s point of view, there’s always suspense. Other than a few of the chasing scenes dragging on a bit too long, there’s always a certain level of suspense. Not quite edge-of-your-seat suspense because the movie doesn’t subscribe to that sort of tension, but suspense nonetheless. From the presentation’s perspective, there are no limits in that you never know what the next step will be. This isn’t a typical Hollywood production. You don’t know what to expect because you have no expectations to really go on. Hanna isn’t going to follow a standard thriller movie’s footsteps. Anyone could die at any given time and should that happen, expect no time to dwell. As Hanna says, “I just missed your heart.”