“I just missed your heart.”
From the very first frame of Hanna you get the sense that you are watching a fairy tale. That is apparently what director Joe Wright intended for this somewhat new take on some rather old ideas. The film opens in a wintry wood covered with snow and littered with barren trees. It’s the kind of forest I always envisioned when I would read, or be read, one of those old fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel And Gretel. It’s the kind of barren and surreal place where reality is just surreal enough that anything might be lurking behind one of these trees. It’s an effective start as we are introduced to young Hanna herself. She’s hunting a large deer or moose, and when the arrow strikes we can hear the animal’s labored breathing and thundering heartbeat as both become slower and weaker. What follows is a surprisingly entertaining film that isn’t quite what you might expect.
Hanna (Ronan) lives in an isolated cabin with her father Erik (Bana) just below the Arctic Circle. They live off the land in a rough cabin with little of the modern world comforts. Erik provides her with strict education and training. Her reflexes are honed, and she is able to defend herself both with and without weapons. It’s not the typical school day for a 16-year-old girl. But this is not a typical family. Erik is not teaching her so much as preparing her for the inevitability that she faces in the outside world. When she decides that she is ready, she will flick the switch on a beacon that will bring that inevitability to their doorstep.
With the signal activated father and daughter go their separate ways with plans to meet up at a magical house in an abandoned amusement park. The meeting place is another example of the overt fairy tale aspect of the film. But before they can meet, Hanna must deal with Agent Marissa (Blanchart). She’s been waiting for Erik and the girl to turn up again. We’re clued into a past project to genetically build super soldiers. When the project was terminated so were the subjects… that is all except Hanna. Now Marissa wants to tie up one more loose end … Hanna.
The story itself here is the biggest red herring of them all. If you approach the film hoping to see another movie about super-soldiers or a secret government program, you’re out of luck. This is the sequel to that movie, which was never made. This film deals only with the aftermath of said program and delves little into that aspect of the story. In fact, almost everything else in the movie is there strictly as an entertaining diversion. Hanna stows away with some English tourists and befriends their daughter. It’s only there to fill time and serve as character development. You see, Hanna has an excellent textbook knowledge of the world, but almost no practical experience.
If the story is filled with all of these simple diversions, what makes the movie at all compelling to watch? It’s the performances and their easily-slotted fairy tale characterizations. If you look at it as a modern fairy tale, as the filmmakers intended, you’ll find it an enchanting story indeed. The enchantment begins with actress Saoirse Ronan as Hanna. It’s pretty hard to believe that the young actress had so little experience going into this film. While the film might not be overly complicated, this character certainly is. Hanna must display both a self-assured knack for defending herself along with a socially awkward side, the girl who has never lived among people other than her father. It’s not a fish out of water story. It’s a fish in water story, merely alien water. Ronan is believable in each of these assets. She can go from a frightened or confused child to a cold-blooded killer like merely flicking a switch. Eric Bana has been running from his Hulk portrayal about as vigorously as Banner himself. He might have found his sanctuary here. At first he is completely unrecognizable as the “woodsman” father in the Arctic cabin training his daughter relentlessly. Once he enters the real world he is totally transformed, but not only in appearance. He is “learning” almost as much as Hanna herself. Cate Blanchett makes us instantly forget the good and powerful elf from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy here. She’s about as emotionless here as Galdriel was passionate there. She is the fairy tale’s evil “witch” character, donning the red and green colors so common to that motif. Tom Hollander is simply just the right amount of over-the-top henchman Isaacs. He’s a flamboyantly gay assassin who loves to whistle while he works. The imaginative tune is just shy of being Disney’s Off To Work We Go that it’s particularly unnerving. Jason Flemying is disastrously underused as Sebastian, the “wizard” who is the caregiver of the fairyland. If the idea is to leave the audience wanting more, I wanted a lot more of that character.
Hanna is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. The locations and production design here are quite brilliant. The high-definition image presentation is faithful to every nuance. The blinding snow of the early camp scenes is alive with magnificent contrast between the snowy environments and the animals and cabin itself. Inside it’s dark, and thankfully there are excellent black levels to continue to provide detail. The outside world is just a little off with a lot of primary colors that are both bold and distinct.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is most noticeable in the sub ranges. You’ll get some very dynamic lows both from the odd score and from the film’s own interior sound design. That score is a collection of sounds that blend into a musical environment that makes separation of source and music difficult, to say the least. Other times it’s a pulsating technofunk. Dialog comes through quite clearly. The surrounds offer another surreal experience that, again, reminds us that we are in a fairy tale.
There is an Audio Commentary by director Joe Wright. He’s manic at times and tells us about as much as there is to know.
Alternative Ending: (1:28) and Deleted Scenes: (3:46) There are three with no individual selection option.
Adapt Or Die: (13:15) This piece covers the training that Ronen went through for the part.
Central Intelligence Allegory: (8:54) In case you somehow missed those fairy tale aspects of the film, the cast and crew will explain it to you here. See, I didn’t make that stuff up.
Chemical Reaction: (6:06) This is an over-stylized look at the score.
Anatomy Of A Scene: (3:10)
The Wide World Of Hanna: (2:12) A look at the locations.
I like unique productions. Some folks don’t. This wouldn’t be their kind of film. There are a lot of questions that are never really explored or fully answered. It’s a character study, but it doesn’t really follow those rules either. The closest thing I can think of is The Wizard Of Oz told as an allegory. It’s the kind of thing that can go terribly wrong. It did modest numbers at the box office but exceeded its budget. I suspect folks didn’t really know what to make of it. Maybe now you do and might give it at least a rental. “The devil’s in the details.”