Film review: Hanna

A teenage girl assassin and out-of-control technology serve to amuse but also irritate, surmises Duncan Wu

April 28, 2011

Credit: Focus Features


Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan

Released in the UK on 6 May

Hanna is a modern fairytale. It concerns a genetically modified girl (played by Saoirse Ronan) brought up in the Arctic by her father (Eric Bana) with the motto "Adapt or die!" This Darwinian philosophy is reflected in her education, which has given her mastery of English, Italian, German, Spanish and Arabic, as well as boxing, karate, kick-boxing and weaponry. Throughout her life, her father has trained her for the moment when she leaves home and tracks down the "witch" - Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a high-level CIA operative who will not rest until Hanna has herself been hunted down and killed. The cat-and-mouse game begins in Morocco and continues across Europe, where Hanna finds a British family on holiday and smuggles herself into their mobile home.

Part-thriller, part-superhero movie, Hanna seems to echo the dark stories in our culture -The Third Man, Alice in Wonderland, Grimm's fairytales and Frankenstein. "Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?" the monster asks his creator in Mary Shelley's novel - a question echoed by countless protagonists since, including Jason Bourne (in the Bourne trilogy) and now Hanna. Why is this such a resonant theme in a godless age? Is it because we are aware of our mutant status - a product of something essentially meaningless - and the sole reason for our mastery of the world? Do we return to it because our grasp on things is beginning to slip, and we fear our days might be numbered?

Hanna has no answer to that; it is more interested in its protagonist's tortured relationship with her father and the mysterious Wiegler - who, at the film's climax, emerges from the mouth of a cartoon wolf. This is, in short, an elaborate coming-of-age story. Like Frankenstein, its deformed monster is also a psychotic killer, so that the film's central motif is that of a teenage girl behaving like a trained assassin - a spectacle we witness again and again. "Sometimes children are bad people too," says Wiegler at one point.

The pleasures of this film reside less in its story, which resolves into an episodic Bourne-style action movie, than in the manner of its telling. From the outset, it employs an elliptical manner that reduces the viewer to a state of confusion, either by withholding information or flirting with outright incomprehensibility - a technique used in science-fiction films such as the Matrix trilogy and Inception. Doubtless this reflects the uneasy awareness - again traceable to Frankenstein - that technology has spun out of control. Who knows how to exploit the full potential of their laptop? Who these days can operate a toaster?

The conceit of these films is to replicate the mounting panic with which we gaze at the flashing green digits on devices whose instruction manuals we are incapable of understanding. If that is a symptom of fear, Hanna will hold you on the edge of your seat - but it also runs the risk of irritating. That risk is largely averted here by the rapid-fire pacing of the narrative, its refusal to take itself too seriously, and its production values. This film cost an estimated $30 million (£18.4 million), so it ought to look and sound good. It is also well cast, and would have been a lesser film without Blanchett, who brings depth to the pathological Wiegler.

In the end, though, there is little here that we have not seen before. Hanna cherry-picks its riffs from well-known sources and rehearses them with aplomb. As an action movie that has gone slightly off the rails, it makes an amusing enough crowd-pleaser, but amounts to little more.

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