Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright

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“Fairy tales to me are never happy, sweet stories. They’re moral stories about overcoming the dark side and the bad. I find it ironic that happy endings now are called fairytale endings because there’s nothing happy about most fairytale endings.” – Joe Wright

Hanna is a modern day, action fairytale that feels ripped from the pages of a graphic novel.  It is visceral, lean and has no time for sentimentality or exposition.  Still, there is heart to the movie, seen most clearly in the friendship between ordinary teenager Sophie (Jessica Barden) and Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl trained by her father to be some sort of assassin.

The film begins with few clues as to time and place.  We meet Hanna as she hunts down an animal with a bow and arrow.  The land is a purgatory white, smothered in ice and snow.  Soon she will be surprised by her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), a stern Paul Bunyan type whose only apparent goal is to prepare Hanna for a battle he knows is coming.

That battle concerns the CIA, specifically Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), someone in power whom Heller has in mind to kill, using Hanna as the weapon.  When Hanna tells him she is prepared for battle, he presents her with a device that, once triggered, will signal the CIA as to their location.  Hanna decides to flip the switch, setting the plot in motion, and Heller, a rogue CIA operative, must go on the run (as he knew he must).

Soon Hanna finds herself in CIA custody where she kills a woman pretending to be Wiegler (all while the real Wiegler watches) and then escapes.  She, like Heller, will spend most of the movie on the run, but while Heller’s mission is absolute, hers evolves as she learns more about the world and makes friends with Sophie and her family.

The best sequences of the movie, at least as far as storytelling goes, has to do with the unlikely friendship between Sophie and Hanna.  One is a privileged, suburban valley girl in nature, and the other has murdered multiple assassins.  Their unlikely friendship is entertaining and heartwarming, showing perhaps what childhood looks like and what, in addition to other things, has been forever taken from Hanna.

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The friendship won’t last forever, as is expected considering the deadly forces hunting after Hanna, and the longer it blossoms the more we wince in preparation for what’s to come.

Thankfully, or not depending on what you look for in these kinds of movies, things never get too dark for Sophie and her accompanying family.  The painful truth for Hanna is that such a family and life is off-limits to her.  She has no choice but to run and to do it quick.

There will be various climactic battles involving Hanna, Heller, Wiegler and a disturbed assassin, Isaacs (Tom Hollander).  Things play out in ways you expect, and the thrills come from the execution of the plot rather than any subversion or originality in the storytelling.

Hanna is simple, brutal and effective.  It’s a very visual movie that often requires little dialogue, like the intersection between a Jason Bourne and a coming of age movie.  Hanna is like a protagonist from a John Hughes movie who also happens to have been raised by wolves.  Much of the comedy and poignancy of the movie comes from her evolved logical understanding of the world but her underdeveloped emotional comprehension of life experiences.  To this aspect of the story can be applied the following quote from Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

When Hanna nearly has her first romantic encounter with a boy, she refrains from kissing him and says instead, “kissing requires a total of 34 facial muscles, and 112 postural muscles. The most important muscle involved is the orbicularis oris muscle, because it is used to pucker the lips.”

She is a human robot, chiseled around the edges but dramatically unformed at her core.  Hanna is a child growing up fast and learning about the world through various encounters and vignettes like you see in any coming of age or road trip movie.  She soaks up the world like a sponge, but her emotional growth is continually cut short by the wall she constantly has up.  The minute she lets it down, she could be dead.

Hanna will learn that she was created in a lab, designed to be a super soldier.  In a flashback we learn early on that Wiegler killed her mother, and later she will kill Heller, her father but not by blood.

The low point for Hanna comes after a fight with Heller, the first time they are reunited since the inciting incident.  She confronts him about her origin and their relationship.  He admits they are not related, but he insists she is his child.  I think there is some ambiguity here in regards to whether or not we believe him.  Heller certainly took care of Hanna, but was it all in the name of revenge?  He wanted Wiegler dead and gave Hanna the opportunity to flip the switch and in turn set the end game in motion.

And sure, Wiegler wants to capture Hanna, but why did the flip ever have to be switched?  Couldn’t Hanna have lived in some kind of quiet obscurity?  From what we see she is more than capable of living a normal life, suggesting that nature is in her favor, but it’s her upbringing that insisted the assassin lifestyle upon her.

So Hanna is a disturbing tale presented with a palatable, entertaining aesthetic.  It’s much more tragic than I think the movie admits, either that or there’s just more depth to a pretty simple, direct story that resists oversentimentality even when it might be appropriate.  Maybe it’s just that the movie is as sentimental as Hanna could ever be.  She is trained to be a certain way, to behave in a certain way, and Hanna as a film is as free of emotion as she is.  Or was.  Or still is.

Up Next: Phenomenon (1996), The Rider (2017), Paddington 2 (2017)

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