Is it possible Hollywood has stumbled upon on a new action trope they can bleed dry? In lieu of suave, grown men and women dressed in tailored suits and wielding expensive guns smirking their way through impossible scenarios and dozens of enemies, in Joe Wright’s new film, we’ve got a tween girl fighting to figure herself out and trying on make-up for the first time, even as she runs a rampage through a network of corrupt CIA agents.
When first we meet teen-aged Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), she’s hunting alone in a deep, remote forest somewhere near the Arctic Circle, lining up an elk with a bow and arrow. Later, having killed her prey, she’s wrists deep in its entrails when her father (Eric Bana) comes up from behind her with a gun, just to let her know how quickly she can be dead if she lets her guard down. Clearly, this isn’t the story of a typical suburban upbringing. Concerned for her well-being, her father has raised her Marv Marinovich-style, as a robo-assassin, able to kill cleanly, adapt to her surroundings instantly and stay alive at any cost. He has reason to prepare her: As a former CIA agent gone into deep seclusion, he knows all-too-well the nefarious forces that will be after the two of them the second he resurfaces, especially one high-ranking agent in particular, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the former head of a secret operation for which he was an operative. With young Hanna nearing her independence, he gives her the choice to enter into this strange outside world she’s never experienced.
In a sense, with its championing of a young teen girl as its action heroine, the film plays along similar lines as Kick Ass, and Let the Right One In, but whereas the latter was a Swedish horror movie featured a centuries-old vampire who still looked like a young girl; this film gives us the actual thing. It’s an interesting scenario, played up nicely by up-and-comer Ronan, and it certainly seems to have galvanized Wright’s impulses. Compared to his far more staid previous work with Ronan, Atonement, this film gives him a chance to let his artistic freak flag fly. It’s all about slick style and chop-socky editing with a bevy of effects and a camera that refuses to sit still, frantically cutting up the action scenes into smaller pieces like so much sashimi.
The action scenes also benefit from the exceedingly dislikable enemies the filmmakers have conjured up to combat young Hanna. Marissa, wearing expensive suits plucked from her hyper-organized closet and obsessed with maintaining her immaculate teeth is a narcissistic nightmare in stylish shoes (though going forward, the other-wise solid Blanchett might want to put the southern accent on permanent layaway); while her sadistic hired gun, Isaacs (Tom Hollander), pasty and paunched in a truly hideous yellow tracksuit, is effectively creepy. It is in its bravura fight-and-chase scenes that the film seems to fully come to life, less so with a drawn-out subplot involving a teen-aged girl friend (Jessica Barden) Hanna makes en route to reuniting with her father in Germany. Hanna stows away with the girl and her family as they enjoy a vacation in their beaten up camper. There, under a blanket lit by a flashlight, the girls talk about themselves and their budding friendship like any other gossipy high schoolers. It would appear even the world’s deadliest teenage assassin still needs a BFF.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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