Monday, April 11, 2011

The Song of Hanna

Okay, let's get this superlative out of the way first; Hanna is the best movie I've seen this year, standing tall at #1 for 2011. When I first saw the trailer for this title in December, I wasn't sure how I would feel about the action-packed thriller, only that it felt far different from any other film I was familiar with. The trailer was exciting, engaging, and flush with talented performers, including Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett and rising star Saoirse Ronan. Music by electronica group The Chemical Brothers was also promoted, but I had a hard time believing the soundtrack could be as good as Daft Punk's work on Tron: Legacy. Helped by the fact that this past weekend was one for uninteresting new releases (including Arthur, Your Highness, and Blind Side wannabe Soul Surfer), plus an invite to see the midnight show by The Opinioness (who probably has her own review up and running by the time you read this), it was an easy choice to see Hanna over all the others. I'm very happy to have made that choice, as even a sleep-deprived evening couldn't take away the fact that director Joe Miller expertly put together an amazing film; that I get to write to you all about it is icing on the cake.

Yes, I'll just be getting our of your way now, thanks
Hanna (Ronan) lives in the wastes near the Arctic Circle with her father, Erik Heller (Bana). There, Erik has raised her to be a ruthless assassin, with the ultimate goal that of killing corrupt CIA handler Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett). Kept from the civilized world her entire life and all alone on her mission, Hanna goes on a journey of self-discovery while hunting down Wiegler en route to meeting up with her father again some day in the future. Meanwhile, Wiegler has her own team of lowlifes tracking down Hanna and Erik, as both are castoffs from her past wrongs, and has brought it upon herself to silence them forever.

The question remains: do the curtains match the drapes?
You'd be completely justified in assuming Hanna to be an ultra-violent mix of action, suspense and vigorous blood-letting, but what you might not expect is for the story to become funny. Not funny "hmm", I mean funny as in gut-busting laughs that will keep you smiling for hours. The film does take a more humorous tone when Hanna, on the run from a government holding facility, meets up with a vacationing family of tourists and ends up hitching a ride. Between the frank honesty and sometimes-bickering of the parents (Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng), the motor-mouthed brilliance of daughter and Hanna's budding friend Sophie (Jessica Barden) and Hanna's own trouble with social interaction (meeting Sophie for the first time, she repeats her own cover story from verbatim to hilarious effect), the whole series of sequences makes for some of the best parts of the film. It doesn't however stray from its often violent story - in fact, these humorous bits are often interspersed by sudden and shuddering acts - and so this act doesn't feel nearly as separate from the main story as it would in similar titles. In fact, it makes for a welcome respite and something new, and the humor's unpredictability means that you never see it coming, like some kind of pint-sized assassin.

Years later, Bana would recollect stints like The Time Traveler's Wife and join AA
Earlier I compared The Chemical Brothers to Daft Punk as longstanding electronic music groups turning in movie soundtracks. That comparison was perhaps a bit short-sighted, as while Daft Punk's electronic organs were ever present and almost essential to the immersion felt in Tron, The Chemical Brothers employed a far more subtle air in their work. Not only is their usual brand of synthesizer music amazing in its utility, but the group did an amazing job in creating music from whatever could be found, often mixing it into the background noise. Music connoisseurs will be more than happy closing their eyes and simply listening to the soothing and melodic sounds from everyday objects used to set up scenes, sequences and moods. Since Hanna has lacked music in her upbringing but always been curious about it, as a character she's experiencing all these strange acoustics with an ear just learning to hear on a whole other level. It does wonders to deepen our connection to her and develop the character even more than the script already does.

Oh, disembodied heads, you so crazy!
And the characters presented here are no cliched heaps of flawed humanity, either. In fact, the film excels in making even small characters lovable and engaging, and you especially feel for them when bad things happen. Ronan continues her climb to stardom over the bodies of those who oppose her; her Hanna is the perfect blend of violent sociopath and curious sixteen-year-old girl, shocking enough to be scary but emotionally raw enough to illicit sympathy from the audience. She's simply outstanding in the role, and at only seventeen years of age, we can expect even more amazing performances from her in the future. Bana missed his shot at being a legitimate Hollywood star about two Hulk movies ago, but also excels here in both an acting and physical role as Hanna's father and the man who made her the killing machine that she is. It's shame Bana makes poor choices in his films; he'll probably never get as popular in the States as he became in his native Australia for Chopper. Still, Hanna presents the idea that he might excel if he pursues the Liam Neeson route of action/thriller films, as he makes the most of Erik Heller as he can, sometimes overshadowing Ronan's own accomplishments in the process. I was afraid Blanchett would be little more than a heavy accent, but she more than acquits herself and makes a compelling villain as well. The film does oversimplify her evilness a bit by suggesting that she is that way for choosing her career over family (or vice versa), but that's really the only problem I have, and that certainly isn't Blanchett's fault. Her gooey southern accent, casual cruelty and a propensity for firearms combine to make Marissa Wiegler a dangerous individual to trifle with. Tom Hollander also does a good job as Wiegler's goon, a bleach-blond German psychopath who likes to make his victims suffer. I also have to give special credit to Jessica Barden for providing the film's funniest moments, even if her character was easily the least-developed of the bunch.

One tough lady
Some of Hanna's fight scenes were a little off, but only in those of the film's namesake and I assume only because it was a bit harder to make it convincing for the young woman to take out opponents twice her size. In fact, Bana has a much better scene halfway through that is so flawless that it lends itself to that argument. That's only a small nuisence, however; as I already stated, Hanna is just too good to avoid. Do yourself a favor, ignore those other films you haven't gotten around to seeing for now. Those still waiting to see truly great films like Win Win, The Adjustment Bureau, and Jane Eyre can put it off a bit longer, so demanding is Hanna's execution. This film grabs your attention and doesn't let go, and while it might not be remembered as the best movie of 2011, I can't imagine a world where it doesn't make my final Top 10 at year's end.

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