by Tim Ross
Here’s a quiz for you: Name the movie character who’s a trained assassin, adept at fighting and stealth, but this person doesn’t know who they are or why they’ve been trained to be a killing machine.
Matt Damon in the Bourne franchise? Liam Neeson in “Unknown?” Not this time.
In the case of “Hanna,” it’s a 16-year-old girl brought up in the remote wilderness by her father until she’s ready to set out into civilization to settle an old score.
“Hanna” draws generously from the Bourne films, “Unknown” and even “Run Lola Run.” Where “Hanna” is different, and at its best, is when it goes beyond the identity crises of previous films to explore the myriad discoveries any 16-year-old experiences.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is trained to do two things: survive and assist a woman named Marissa (Cate Blanchett). What she’s not trained to do is understand what it’s like to be a teenage girl in the civilized world. Watching the superb Ronan navigate the dangerous waters of friendship, love, sex and her yearning for family is easily as interesting as the fight scenes or the predictable ending.
Hanna’s father, Erik (Eric Bana), is a man with an unknown past who’s raising his daughter somewhere in the Finnish wilderness. He trains her to hunt caribou with a homemade bow and arrow and spars daily with her to make her a cold-blooded assassin. We don’t exactly know why, but it’s evident early on that the two are fugitives who must return to the real world to confront a past that’s quickly catching up to them.
It becomes clear that Hanna is ready to leave the nest when she dispatches two fully-grown, heavily-armed men sent to take out her father and anyone else they should encounter.
Until that moment, there’s virtually no soundtrack. Just the wind and crunch of snow as Hanna stalks game and the click-clack of sticks when she and her father train. Watching Hanna’s story in near-silence serves the story well both during her conditioning and again later when she seeks quiet moments during her odyssey.
Once the action starts, there’s heaps of it and Hanna quickly traverses the globe from Morocco, around Europe and finally landing in Germany to meet with her father, where a resolution to her mission awaits – and, hopefully, answers to her questions about who she is and if she has a true family.
Along the way, Hanna makes friends with Sophie, wonderfully played by Jessica Barden, and the girls’ relationship provides the most tender and interesting moments of the film. However, it also becomes clear that Hanna isn’t cut out for the real world. She’s a fighting machine with no understanding of basic human emotions such as fear, love or loyalty. We eventually learn what’s made her this way, but the various resolutions aren’t as satisfying as the journey to them.
Watching “Hanna” is somewhat like riding a roller coaster – exhilarating jolts of action followed by long, slow moments of climbing the hill for the next plunge. But the up-hill anticipation becomes more interesting than the plunge and, unfortunately, when the ride ended, I didn’t want to get back in line.
The performances are sound, and Ronan is on her way to becoming a steadily working actress. Whether “Hanna” is a box office success or not, I suspect we’ll see more of her, and that will be a good thing.