Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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 Post subject: Joe Wright: Hanna (2011)
PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 6:28 pm 
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The review also appears on Cinescene.


Tough little girl on the run

Here we have another hybrid that goes nowhere: the exciting Bourne meets the fun but twisted Kick-Ass. Like Nicolas Cage with Chloë Grace Moretz only in a remote, chilly locale (is that a reindeer she kills with bow and arrow in the opening sequence?), Eric Bana trains Saoirse Ronan to be a teen girl killing machine and escape artist. Then when she's fully trained he tells her to flip the switch on a box when she's ready ("no hurry") and it will alert a certain Marissa (Cate Blanchett) at Langley (where else?), another CIA ice queen, who will give her jobs to do worthy of her remarkable skills. But the trouble is that Marissa, it appears, only wants to kill the girl, whose name is Hanna, and we spend the rest of the movie watching Marissa chase around after Hanna till the final confrontation and -- what? Could anything be more pointless than this movie? A shame, because Saorise Ronan, who played the evil child in the same director's much admired Ian McEwan adaptation Atonement, and was deemed worthy of starring in the disastrous but elaborate Lovely Bones, has a very distinctive presence. You really want to see her get to kick ass. Unfortunately she never gets any worthy ass to kick. And the fights are the bad kind where you never get to see properly what's going on, and all you hear is a lot of loud banging noises to make you think you are witnessing hand-to-hand combat.

Joe Wright? He seems to have been going very gently downhill. From his respectable Pride and Prejudice he went to the attention-getting but dubious Atonement, thence to the best forgotten The Soloist. And now this. Going from his English origins to American and now International, he'd better get back to English quick before he loses his brand identity.

The opening sequences have a hirsute Erik (Bana) engaging in challenging karate duels with his protégé, teaching her to recite pointless strings of facts and testing her knowledge of European languages. Later, on her own, she winds up in Morocco and darn if she doesn't reveal an excellent command of Moroccan dialect. Take that, Jason Bourne. Only the trouble is, unlike Bourne, Hanna has no mystery to solve, and her way of staying out of Marissa's hands seems distinctly odd. It mostly consists of hanging around an English tourist family and stowing away in their van.

Here is where Wright and his writers Seth Lockhead and David Farr (the latter wrote some episodes of the British series "MI5") make some attempts at humor and color, and otherwise completely lose their way. The mother (a pointlessly appealing Olivia Williams) says some off-the-wall things about religion, and the little girl (Jessica Barden), who touchingly bonds with Hanna, or tries to, has brief monlogues that sound like they might be quite droll if one could make out quite what she's saying. The father, Sebastian (Jason Flemyng, who by an odd coincidence was in Kick-Ass), has less to do, but we do feel personalites here, which is more than can be said for the wooden Bana, the fridgid Blanchett, and the unformed, mainly just athletic and explosively violent Hanna. Violent, we should add, but not as entertainingly so as the Kick-Ass hit-girl. Oh, there are a few good escapes, chases, and fisticuffs, but the movie lacks a coherent structure to pull them together.

Locations are shot in an exaggeratedly colorful manner. Berlin, for instance, seems to be all panhandlers and graffiti. In the Moroccan sequence there' a hotelier (Mohamed Majd) who has an appealing moment or two, though this is mainly that chance for Hanna to show off her fluency in his dialect. This is a very noisy movie, with a randomly percussive soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, and here, when the Moroccan leaves Hanna in her room, all hell breaks loose. It seems though she can down a reindeer with a single arrow and carry home the meat, electricity is something her remote upbringing has little prepared her for. The noisy flickering of a fluorescent light combined with an electric tea kettle jiggling with boiling water and a wall-mounted TV blasting Moroccan pop music nearly drive her out of her mind. And, thanks to The Chemical Brothers, we're driven mad too.

What was the point of that scene? It seems part of a confused, mostly abandoned effort to develop the character of Hanna as a strange critter who doesn't know who she is or where her real duties and talents lie. It's the Bourne thing, the past and the lack of a past, the thing that the Bourne films do so well and the knockoffs can't seem to get a hold on.

Blanchett, rigid in her ice-queen schtick, is a cartoon character, but like most of the movie she is not funny. She is lean, shapely, and perfectly groomed, with a smooth, puffy hairdo almost as scary as Javier Bardem's Dutch boy in No Country for Old Men. If she could only sweat, like the corporate bitch so wonderfully played by Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. But Joe Wright is no Tony Gilroy: he can't convey power plays and rivalries. He's out of his depth here. And all Blanchett really gets to do is snap at people. With such characters as Marissa and the effeminate and of course sadistic German (Tom Hollander) whom she enlists to "get" Hanna and do things the CIA can't do (a sort of western European Extraordinary Rendition, perhaps), one's mind turns to Ian Fleming and the rueful thought occurs that all these bad, exotic chase films are some kind of degenerate mutation of the Bond stories. But the Bond stories have Bond. They also have a goal. And Hanna has no goal other than, apparently, to drive us mad with impatience.

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