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Hanna Review


The Guardian; the Rolling Stone; the New York Observer - three big publications, all of which called this one wrong...

Hanna Review

Hanna, the story of a girl raised to be an assassin, has been criticised as little more than a showcase of director Joe Wright’s talents – but what is wrong with that?

The plot is pretty simple: the Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) in the forenamed 'Hanna' has been raised in an Arctic forest to kill Marissa (Cate Blanchett) by her ex CIA father (Eric Bana). And as you can imagine, Hanna willingly obliges and thus a pan-European game of cat and mouse ensues. Along the way our teenage assassin encounters a friendly and unwitting family of English hippies as she kicks, runs and leaps out of the grasp of a gay German hit-man – hired by Marissa and performed with panache by Tom Hollander.

Not since the release of Taken in 2008 have I reacted with such enthusiasm to an action film. For Hanna is not merely an action flick; a journey across Europe leads her to experience bewilderment and joy as the world about her unveils itself. This is also a coming of age story, albeit uncompromisingly wedged between frantic action scenes.

Perhaps such sentiments are to be expected from Wright, director of such high-brow fodder as Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. While Hanna represents a radical leap away from his comfort zone, Wright has nevertheless transposed many of his techniques with success. He took the graceful tracking shots from his period dramas and applied it to a subway fracas, replacing romantic conversation with prolonged intimidation. He brought a modicum of coherence to a story that is so disparate. And his establishing shots maintain his high standards – the image of Hanna’s forest lodge – peaceful in the evening snowfall – was hauntingly beautiful.

Hanna star Saoirse Ronan In fact much of the film was hauntingly beautiful; from the unforgiving, piercing blue eyes of Ronan, to the pristine, almost sterile fashion of Blanchett and the baleful and troubled expression worn by Bana throughout. All things considered, it is a shame that Bana and Blanchett, both accomplished actors, were confined to such one-dimensional characters. And of course, Saoirse Ronan holds the film together with great competence and performs with gravitas – as one would expect after her star turn in The Lovely Bones.

Yet what I loved most about Hanna, what many consider to be the jewel in its crown and what gave it real pace, poignancy and purpose, was the soundtrack. Suffice to say the Chemical Brothers outdid themselves. Their electro beats charged each scene with menace, the tempo matching the swift and decisive camera work perfectly. But aggression is not the limit of their efforts; the periods of calm on screen were matched by spiritual vocals and delicate melodies engendering, in the scenes devoid of fisticuffs, a stab of pathos.

Yet I write this knowing that Hanna has been largely ignored; by May 15th, which is the latest figure, it grossed $8m outside of America. Wright’s work has failed to match the fervour of Taken, a predecessor of the same ilk, which grossed $145m worldwide. Perhaps it is this unenviable mixed reception that has left potential audiences with cold feet. The Guardian gave it two stars, whilst Rolling Stone declared it “a knockout”, and perhaps most damning of all, Rex Reed of the New York Observer labelled it “contrived, pretentious and not worth seeing”.

The only consistently held gripe has been the director’s inability to stitch the scenes of action and inaction together, and I don’t disagree. Maybe the 70 seconds of salsa dancing was a bit too much; maybe one or two scenes with the hippy family were awkward and maybe Blanchett’s accent was awful – but does it matter? Does it matter when you leave the cinema gasping at the sheer brilliance of the action scenes? I don’t think so.

Taken was superb because it whisked you from one dark destination to the next, without much care for the plot, with such verve and style that you couldn’t resist. In places, Hanna produced the same magic, overpowering the audience with similar cinematic confidence – its exhilarating stuff. The film started strongly, and finished abruptly – which is pleasing; so many tend to peter out or leave the door open for a sequel, but Hanna provides closure, symmetry and one hell of a ride.

4 stars

See also reviewer Jack Dowling's latest in his series of YouTube recommendations:

5 YouTube experiences to brighten your week


If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.



#1 RE: Hanna Review ham sandwich 2011-05-25 17:33
Mr. Dowling wrote: "Yet I write this knowing that Hanna has been largely ignored; by May 15th, which is the latest figure, it grossed $8m outside of America."

Remember, 'Hanna' hasn't been released yet in most of Europe and Asia, so it still has an opportunity to make more money and hopefully a decent profit if it's received well.

Nice review. I enjoyed it very much. This small film deserves the attention of the world.
#2 Reaction to Hanna's review Steve Castagnoli 2011-05-28 16:01
I agree with ham sandwich's statement about the staggered release schedule of Hanna. If you check the Sony International website, it contains the upcoming release dates for most of the foreign territories which they purchased from Focus Features. In nearly all the countries listed, the film has yet to be released.

I mostly concur with the review written Mr. Dowling. I am not a fan of electronic music, but it really fits quite well with this film. However, having seen the film more than once, my feeling is that Saoirse is the true standout here. She creates a believable character and simply rivets the attention of the viewer with her powerful and charismatic screen presence.
#3 Thanks Guys Jack 2011-05-29 14:55
Very true about the foreign release dates, thanks for the pointers. Although it hasn't gone down a storm here in the UK, which hopefully isn't a forewarning. And I agree with you Mr. Castagnoli, Ronan really was sublime.
Thanks for reading guys.
#4 Perfect. Turkey Cob 2011-05-29 15:00
I went to see this the other day on your recommendation, and all I can say is thank you.

I totally agree with what you have said, and think it's a damn shame the UK are rather ignoring it to date.

Either way, love it; will be recommending Shadowlocked to friends and look forward to any other reviews you do :)

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