In a way, Focus Features’ “Hanna” can be looked at as a Grimm’s fairytale told in reverse. Teenaged Hanna (Saorise Ronan) has lived her whole life deep in a secluded snow-covered forest with her renegade CIA agent father, Erik (Eric Bana). They live in a cabin that looks like it’s made out of gingerbread, and Erik homeschools his daughter under one principle – “adapt or die.”
Erik raises Hanna to be a killer, adept at both cracking your neck and making a smiley face out of bullet holes on your chest. She has been completely secluded from society, knowing only the forest that surrounds her and of whatever her father makes her memorize from a set of encyclopedias. She’s a lean, mean teenaged killing machine, perfectly capable of fending for herself in any environment.
Hanna’s training all leads up to testing her skills into the real world and luring the witch into her gingerbread cabin. The witch is CIA operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett), who has it out for the two, making them resort to hiding out for the majority of Hanna’s life. Alerting Marissa of their location, the father and daughter set off their plan to take her down from the inside and start a new life.
All of the fairytale parallels aside, “Hanna” plays out like a smoother, cheekier version of the “Bourne” films. This is all mixed with the always shocking and ever entertaining sight of a young girl performing unspeakable acts of violence, much like Hit-Girl in last year’s “Kick-Ass.” But where “Kick-Ass” was crass and outrageous, “Hanna” is fine-tuned and elegantly handled. Its over-the-top premise is leveled out by a dose of wry, self-aware humor and a surprisingly grounded emotional core.
Hanna is special, but we’re not quite sure why. Marissa and Erik seem to know and when Hanna finally finds out who she really is towards the end, she is completely shattered and more alone in the world than she ever was back in the forest. There are moments where you really feel and worry for her – that is, until she’s smashing her pursuers’ heads into walls.
This constant switch between vulnerable little girl and stone-faced killer is handled expertly by Ronan. But where she really shines is in the film’s lighter moments that show Hanna realizing how odd her upbringing was and how utterly unfamiliar she is with the outside world, having her father as her sole human contact all her life. She’s wide eyed at the world around her, but it’s always downplayed with a steely alertness for any danger coming her way.
Blanchett plays Marissa as a menacing Laura Bush-Hilary Clinton hybrid with a heavy southern drawl. She eyes the camera like a Disney villain and Blanchett looks like she’s having the time of her life. However, instead of playing her as an over-the-top cartoony villain, Blanchett hints at a sense of regret in Marissa’s growingly ruthless actions through moments of almost painful hesitation.
The movie is directed by Joe Wright, who’s known for prim literary adaptations like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement.” Both films are known for their shimmery, elegant imagery and surprisingly, Wright sneaks a lot of that same sensibility to this film. It’s unforgivably stylish, but never in a stuffy, alienating way.
This is all undercut with brilliantly shot and choreographed kinetic action sequences that whip across the scenes with crystal clarity and zero CGI clutter. All the action plays out to a thumping electronic score by The Chemical Brothers that adds a music video quality to a series of memorable chase and fight sequences.
The film pays homage to spy films of the 1960s, with an incredible sequence involving Hanna making an escape from a military base that seems ripped out of a James Bond movie, complete with a strobe-lit tunnel and an endless army of nameless military henchmen.
“Hanna” works as a spy tale, a revenge yarn and an odd kind of coming of age story. It’s refreshingly unique but also pleasantly familiar. Wright truly stepped out of his comfort zone with this one and it paid out wonderfully. While the “Bourne” films may have sometimes fell under the weight of their own chaos, “Hanna” keeps things cool, collected and constantly engaging.
This is a very bright spot before what’s sure to be a numbing summer of endless CGI explosion-ridden blockbusters.
“Hanna” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. Directed by Joe Wright. Running Time: 111 minutes.