Saturday, September 3, 2011

In short: Hanna (2011)

(I'm keeping the plot pretty vague today to avoid unnecessary spoilers.)

In a house in the snowy woods somewhere far away from civilisation live Erik (Eric Bana) and his seventeen year old daughter Hanna (Saoirse Roman, who will turn out to be able to project wonder and frightening coldness in equal measure). Apart from the rules of survival in the wilderness, Erik has taught his little girl an astonishing number of ways to kill someone quite dead, all in preparation for the day when Hanna will have to come out of hiding and tangle with the world of spies.

Hanna - without question also driven by the sort of youthful unrest one develops when one has never met anyone beside one's father and knows large parts of the human experience only from an encyclopaedia - decides that the time is now, and begins an odyssey that'll take her some decisive steps on the way to growing up.

Hanna will have to survive the unhealthy interest of CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) in her, learn a few things about her family's and her own past, and will do a bit of violence to quite a few people in the process.

Joe Wright's Hanna is a pretty darn odd entry into the books of the modern spy film. At first, it has all the hallmarks of being a movie deeply indebted to the semi-realist school of the genre that culminated in the Bourne trilogy, as if somebody had planned to milk the idea of "Jason Bourne as a strange teenage girl". But the further the film goes along, the clearer it becomes that any form of realism, be it semi or complete, is not at all what the film's aiming at. Sure, the film's action sequences stay inspired by Bourne's ways, everything else, however soon mutates into an often dream-like mix of quite unexpected elements. Allusions to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm abound, and Hanna's travels (or is it a quest?) lead the film into places where the spy movie, the fairy tale, and the free-form strange mix into one of the more unexpected films about a teenager growing up.

Somehow, Wright still manages to keep what could be a mess of metaphors being a highly satisfying movie. Usually, I'm not the biggest fan of films this obviously in love with their own - often quite obvious (Cate Blanchett stepping out of the mouth of the big bad wolf, etc) - metaphorical systems. Hanna, however, manages something pretty special. It takes its metaphors and not just presents them to its audience with a shout of "look how clever I am!", but really makes them dance and live as parts of a world its audience watches on screen. This is the sort of film where it feels natural and not unnecessarily artificial when one of the characters begins whistling a motive from the Chemical Brothers' (surprisingly excellent) soundtrack.

There's something special about a film that manages to flow as beautifully as this one, that can picture a brutal action sequence, the silent sense of wonder Hanna shows for the outside world, the panic she feels from the information overload, and the strangeness of Morocco and Berlin (like any place, strange in their own ways) as part of the same continuum of movement and rhythm.

As should be obvious by now, I'm pretty much in love with Wright's film, seeing as it does mix various of my favourite cinematic things (spies! movement! music! fairy tales! irreality! female ass-kickery!) in a perfect way, but really, it's the sort of film that is so heavily in need of being experienced first, and talked about second, that all I can say about it seems insufficient.



Pauline said...

Sold; I'm putting this one in the Netflix queue! Thanks, as always.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Glad to have pointed you in this direction!