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Awfully big gun for such a little girl

dir: Joe Wright

This is an odd film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Far from it. It’s actually much better than it has any right to be.

The oddest thing about it is that I was sure it must have been directed by Tom Tykwer, the German director responsible for the decent flick Run Lola Run, and the tremendous flick Perfume. But, no. It’s Joe Wright, responsible for the ordinary version of Pride and Prejudice with that bony hag Keira Knightley, and that great version of Atonement with all those other good actors including that bony hag Keira Knightley.

Hanna has him venturing into unknown, yet ultimately familiar territory. The real point of the flick doesn’t become obvious until the Brothers Grimm fairy tale allusions start piling up like a sink full of stinky dishes until you can’t ignore them anymore.

The Hanna of the title, Saoirse Ronan, is a very young, alien looking creature. She either looks like an Aryan superchild, or one of the more grown up children from the Village of the Damned. She hunts and survives in the icy wilds of some place. Out of goddamn nowhere, some bearded lunatic (Eric Bana) starts trying to kill her dead. She’s pretty well trained in lethal hand-to-hand combat, though, and she holds her own.

They seem to live a very isolated existence, and seem to have done so for a while. He reads facts to her with his heavy German accent, an accent that she has as well, though she seems fluent in a bunch of languages as well. You’d think the accent would be an impediment to their overall plan, but who am I to criticise?

She has a story, of her origins, and of what she needs to do with her life. She has, apparently, been training for it her entire life. And though she is a stone cold killer, and highly intelligent, she knows little of the world outside their shack and the icy surrounding countryside. When her protector Erik reads to her of music, she wonders what it must be like to experience it, to hear it. She asks “What does music feel like?” in such a way as to confirm for us that she’s never heard it, just of it.

It’s a small price to pay, surely, in order to become a warrior princess ninja assassin. She is told to press a strange button on a transponder when she thinks she is ready to confront the person who has wounded her most deeply: Cate Blanchett.

Cate Blanchett has probably committed many crimes in her life, so it’s hard for me to argue against the necessity of her character being hunted down and killed. Still, the unnecessary Southern accent she puts on as a ruthless CIA upper management type ranks up there as one of her greatest crimes. Ruthless is a word you would be reading a lot if I didn’t control my thesaurus a bit better, because virtually everyone in this flick is utterly ruthless. This is not a gentle, fairytale world that Hanna is about to find herself in.

Through strange happenstance, and an unexplained plane ride, Hanna ends up in some underground facility being quizzed by CIA-types or at least subcontractors. A woman pretending to be Blanchett’s character of Marisa, with an earpiece to deliver her lines, tries to lull Hanna into a unreal sense of security. It is a terrifying moment when Hannah ‘needs a hug’, and enfolds this poor woman in her arms and legs, clearly planning on giving her a lethal dose of tough love.

What happens next, the best way I can describe it apart from using the execrable cliché of all hell breaking lose, is that Hanna is attacked by every single person in the facility, and kills them all amidst severe mood lighting and crazy architecture.

Actually, there’s a better way to describe it: she looks like she’s being attacked by a Kraftwerk film clip, or by a Eurovision song contest.

When she evades the bloody and lifeless remnants of her captors, she climbs out into a landscape the polar opposite of the one she grew up in: a blasted, shimmering desert wasteland. Before she left her winter wonderland, she was given at least three pieces of wisdom: an address to go to in Berlin, the mission to kill Marissa, and the stern admonition to “adapt or die.” Parenting in the modern age, eh?

That seems like a bit of a tall order, I would think. A child who’s grown up in complete isolation from other people, with no access or knowledge or use of modern technology, is expected to be able to do everything instantly? It seems beyond implausible, even if she is a Nazi superchild. They supply us with a possible explanation, not a good one, but an explanation all the same.

Ignoring the fairytale dynamics for a while, and the constant references (Peter and the Wolf, a man called Grim, big bad wolves and such), maybe it’s more of a nature/nurture argument. If you believe in a determinist universe, where people are the sum and total of their DNA, and origins dictate endings, then Hanna is the pure product not just of her harsh and isolated upbringing, but of her design, so to speak. She was made to be the perfect warrior in order to achieve revenge on she who killed her mother. But are we nothing more than our code, and our abusive upbringings? Is that all we are as people?

Surely not. Surely there are more possibilities than what we can glean between the strands of the double helix, surely we have the opportunity to transcend our parent’s abuses / affections.

Hanna walks the line between a killing machine and a noble savage in a world she only knows of in theory. But there is something more there than the some of her parts. She befriends a girl with hippy parents in order to get to Morocco from Spain, and gets to see what a ‘real’ family is more like, and clearly she can’t stop herself from envying them.

The actress playing Hanna, Saoirse Ronan (pronounced according to her as something like ‘sur-sher'), does pretty well in this role. She does damn well. She’s not called upon to do as much as she did in Wright’s previous flick Atonement, where she played the supremely important and apocalyptic role of Briony. Here she has to look alien, feral but filled with longing for the normal aspects of life even as she is fighting and killing her pursuers, and she does it very well.

Perhaps it looks and sounds like a bit of an action-fest. There’s action a-plenty, but it’s not like a wall-to-wall Bourne spy flick, nor does it have excessive shakycam. It does have some brutal setpieces, involving Erik fighting a whole bunch of guys in a subway, in one long continuous sequence with minimal edits, and Hanna taking on a bunch of skinheads in between and atop cargo containers in brutal fashion. These sequences are harsh and well done. Most of all, though, her harshest fights are against her father, against whom she fights for very different reasons. She barely even gets much of a chance to go after the one person who deserves the most arse-kicking, but there’s a resolution to be enjoyed there as well. After all, who doesn’t want to watch Cate Blanchett get her arse handed to her?

Surely not you. Of the strange aspects of the flick, there’s none stranger than Tom Hollander as a German killer for hire. Tom’s great in flicks like In the Loop where he played an incompetent MP, or as the loathsome Lord Something or Other in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but, really? As a hired goon? He’s knee-high to a Kylie Minogue. I kept expecting him not to whistle a cheery tune, like his character does when advancing on prey, but to start singing a cautionary song to the tune of “Oompa Loompa, Loopity Do/ We’ve got a song to sing for you” about how Hanna deserves to be kicked out of the Chocolate Factory for her bratty murderous behaviour.

Other than that, it hangs together well. The pounding Chemical Brothers soundtrack is almost the real star of the show, literally pounding away at your ears as Hanna fights for her blessed life. It’s high energy without being irritating, and serious without being maudlin. It’s strange, that’s for sure, but a step up from where the action genre has been going lately. It is certainly not of a piece with another recent flick showcasing a girl child trained from early on to be an assassin, which also made it seem like the coolest and funnest thing in the world. This is definitely no Kick-Ass, and she is no Hit Girl, thankfully. That flick wanted us to applaud and cheer at the abuses involved in turning such a child into a weapon, whereas here it’s left to appear as the horrible set of events that it is, with some hope as to redemption, that she might find a way out of the darkness of the forest eventually.

And yet maybe not. Maybe there are no happily ever afters for such a child, maybe there’s just a ‘and then I no longer had to keep killing motherfuckers’ ending that one could look forward to. Who knows? This is the one time I’d like to see a sequel to extend the story where it needs to go. She’s a pretty awesome character for the ages.

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