|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
The Guardian; the Rolling Stone; the New York Observer - three big publications, all of which called this one wrong...
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.
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.
See also reviewer Jack Dowling's latest in his series of YouTube recommendations:
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