Thursday, April 14, 2011


The teenage girl killer role has been a popular cinematic motif forever.  In fact, all the chaotic, disorienting facets of Joe Wright's latest- Hanna- have been done again and again; here it's all a misapplied assembling of various filmmaking distractions, and overly indulgent flourishes combined together to make a strange and tonally uneven piece of pop fiction.  Part little girl revenge film, part Euro-trash art house pretentiousness, part Chemical Brothers-scored Ecstasy trip, all brought together by talented people, but never adding up to more than the sum of their parts.  Too self important to truly be fun, and way to self aware and over the top to be taken seriously, Hanna, lies in a purgatory, much like it's hard to pin down title character.  Perhaps Mr. Wright is just out of his element, he of the refined literary adaptations, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, and the sloppier modern melodrama The Soloist; this is his first stab at action, and the plotting and suspense never jells or builds particularly to anything.  None of the fine instruments help flesh out a story that doesn't appear to exist, not the flashy editing, nor the camera tricks, especially not the distracting musical score soon to appearing at a rave near you.  Yet the film is weirdly schizophrenic enough to believe that if a cohesive center were at the center of the film, no matter which way it went, Hanna might have been a terrific picture.  With the proper balls of conviction to embrace the cartoon parts of it truly are, it could have been hypnotic fun, or with the proper restraints, a finely calibrated subtler drama could have worked as well.

We first meet Hanna (played by steely blue eyed Saoirse Ronan, who is no stranger to Bad Seed-like little girls; Mr. Wright directed her to an Oscar nomination for her bratty preteen work in Atonement) in the forest where she is trained and educated by her father (Eric Bana) in all the skills of being a great warrior.  Using a mantra, "Adapt or die," Hanna kills her prey, trains in combat with daddy, and is clearly and cohesively schooled in all ways formal ways.  There's but one sense of a normal girl when we meet her-- she wants to hear music, and engulfs herself in Grimm fairy tales.  Of course, it's her mission that's paramount; one of which moves the story forward, but never quite makes any sense, but nonetheless, time has come for the little forest warrior to make her move to the big city and do some a whole lot of killing.  Ronan, the actress is quietly expressive and almost always compelling, and it's true even here with a character that makes absolutely no sense.  She's brilliant and strong, but also portrayed as a sort of Tarzan idiot savant-- Daddy never taught her how to make polite conversation with natives.

There's more to story as a mysterious dragon lady CIA agent (played with mad brio, but again not much sense by Cate Blanchett)-- she wants Hanna and her daddy too.  There's an exciting early sequence where Hanna is brought into a holding cell and using her ace training manages to outsmart and over power all the guards on route to freedom.  We've seen it before, but glimmers of fun and a sense that a nice ride is upon us awaits...unfortunately shortly after is where the film stalls to bloody halt.  Upon freedom, and her first real sense of the outside world, Hanna meets a vacationing family (the lovely Olivia Williams plays Earth mom) whom she hitches with; we learn she's en route to Germany to meet her Pop.  The family itself, comprised of mom and dad, young boy, and irritating teenage girl are almost portrayed as a parody of an actually family; perhaps on purpose to further screw up young Hanna's ideas of family (her mother died when she was an infant, to three bullets, we learn in one of the lighter scenes.)  Yet the film has the half-witted notion that this is where Hanna learns about humanity or something.  There's added subplots of Blanchett's cronies zeroing in on our young killer, and her relationship to dad, and while I maintain to be spoiler-free, most of which are fairly uninteresting and generically routine.

Perhaps it's after Kick-Ass, Let Me In, The Professional, et al, that I'm a bit over the whole teenage girl killer sub-genre.  Or that Hanna, while strange and visually savored out to a fetistists delight, never grabs or reaches to anything especially new.  The one plus is that this is certainly one of the few times where the young lady killer isn't overtly sexualized, but that's hardly enough to make it work.  The film limps along to Berlin, where we expect to get our climatic bloody conclusion; but instead of ending with the bang we may have hoped after nearly two hours of meandering, off center, tonally mixed adventures, it ends more with a thud.  And not even the loud soundtrack can wake us up.  C-

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