“The Wild Child” Meets “Kick Ass”
by: Van Roberts
“Pride & Prejudice” director Joe Wright’s offbeat actioneer “Hanna” qualifies as a straightforward but unsavory pursuit saga about an angel-faced teenage lass with unkempt hair who displays no qualms about killing the people who want her kaput. This savage, single-minded, PG-13 epic is the kind of movie where innocent bystanders suffer the consequences when they find themselves caught in the crossfire of its violence. In most movies, the role-model heroes and slimy villains assail only those who interfere with their objectives. Anybody who encounters our pugnacious heroine and her murderous adversaries, however, suffers a horrible death. In other words, when they befriend the heroine, they become targets for the villains. Although “Hanna” (**1/2 out of ****) shares some similarities with last year’s father-daughter thriller “Kick Ass,” with Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz, this Focus Features release is an altogether different kind of white-knuckler. The chief difference between “Hanna” and “Kick Ass” is that the former confines its violence to the bounds of matter-of-fact realism and manages to bemuch more harrowing. Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous heroine; Eric Bana as her mentor; and Cate Blanchett as the trigger-happy villainess deliver gripping performances. As Hanna, Saoirse Ronan makes afirst-rate heroine. She seems to realize that she has been programmed from the get-go to tangle with Marissa. With her Southern fried drawl, Blanchett excels as a CIA agent who is both charming and lethal. When our heroine demands to meet her, Marissa sends an imposter, and Hanna dispatches the poor imposter without blinking an eye. Imagine what would happen if a 16-year old girl home schooled in all forms of combat were turned loose on the world without any interpersonal social skills? She has never had a friend, aside from the older man who has steeped her in violence. Everything she knows came either from her surrogate father or the book that he read aloud to her. As an individual, Hanna lacks compassion. Later, we learn that she has been genetically enhanced from birth to be stronger and less compassionate. Unlike her well-coiffed counterpart in “Kick Ass,” our scraggly-haired heroine neither dons a colorful, close-clinging costume nor wields exotic weapons. Instead, Hanna, her surrogate father, and the sadistic ruffians who pursue them rely strictly on conventional weapons. Hanna’s felonious foes regard murder as a reasonable alternative for any predicament. “Hanna” opens in a stretch of snowy woods. Our heroine is patiently stalking a deer. Literally, she blends in with her surroundings and uses a bow and arrow to bring down the deer. Unfortunately, Hanna misses the animal’s heart and resorts to an automatic pistol to finish it off. Suddenly, without warning, a man materializes behind her and informs her that she is dead. This precipitates a violent struggle with both exchanging staggering blows. As it turns out, this is a routine between Hanna (Saoirse Ronan of “Atonement”) and former espionage agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana of “Hulk”), and he tries to catch her when the poor girl least suspects it. “You must always be ready,” Erik warns her. “Adapt. Or die!” These sporadic fights recall the comic brawls between Inspector Clouseau and his Asian manservant Kato in “The Pink Panther” franchise. Clouseau has Kato attack him when he least expects it to perfect his defensive skills. Anyway, Erik and Hanna live in isolation in the middle of the woods near the Arctic Circle in complete isolation with none of the usual modern-day appliances. One day Erik informs Hanna that she is free to venture out into the world. He unearths a transponder and puts it in front of Hanna. Erik warns her about tripping the switch. “She won’t stop until you’re dead, or she is,” Erik describes the chief villainess. Nevertheless, Hanna activates the transponder while Erik is away hunting game. Far off at Langley Virginia in CIA headquarters, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett of “Elizabeth”), who loves to maintain her dental hygiene to the point of bleeding her gums, sets out to track down Erik. She hires some loathsome killers led by Isaacs (Tom Hollander of “Valkyrie”) to help her because the CIA refuses to have anything to do with it. What sets “Hanna” apart from most thrillers about callous killers is its overwhelming lack of nonsense. This tale of initiation charts her journey from the Arctic Circle, to Morocco, and ultimately to Berlin without any twists. At times, “Hanna” may even be too realistic as our heroine dispatches her enemies without a shred of emotion. Wright stages several well-orchestrated examples of close-quarters combat without heightening these encounters with the usual snappy editing so prevalent in most actioneers. You won’t be shadow boxing with the on-screen characters as much as cringing at their bloodthirsty shenanigans. Wright and freshman scenarists Seth Lochhead and David Farr make allusions to Grimm’s fairy tales throughout the narrative. Indeed, the landscape and the settings resemble something out of a fairy tale, whether it is the cold, icy wastelands of the Arctic Circle or an elaborate children’s amusement park in Germany. The house Hanna and Erik hole up in looks like something from Grimm’s fairy tales. The finale relies heavily on this Grimm imagery as our villainess strolls out of a tunnel shaped like the mouth of a giant big bad wolf. Mind you, “Hanna” isn’t in the same league with either “The Terminator” or “No Country for Old Men,” but it is still pretty exciting. Ultimately, this humorless melodrama lacks sympathetic characters and generates little in the way of charisma. After everything is said and everybody is dead, you’ll feel gratified but unsure about our protagonist’s future. Wright and company leave things open in “Hanna” for a sequel, but it is one that you can wait on without any sense of anticipation.