(No longer in theaters)
Apr 8, 2011
Something spooky happens in the artfully delirious new thriller Hanna when natural light hits Saoirse Ronan’s pale-blue eyes. Playing a motherless teen raised in the Arctic wilderness and trained as a warrior by her rogue-CIA-agent father (Eric Bana), Ronan has unruly coils of white-blonde hair and a near-albino cast; her features are virtually bleached out. When Hanna reenters civilization, she moves warily—there are assassins everywhere—yet in childish wonderment. Those eyes linger briefly on electric lights, television sets, and fellow teenagers, as if trying to process what they see, their otherworldly glow like the nuclear fusion of little mermaid and machine.
The “Little Mermaid” references are right there onscreen, along with “Hansel and Gretel” and more from the Brothers Grimm: The climax unfolds outside something called Grimm’s House, in an empty amusement park where the film’s wicked witch (Cate Blanchett) strides out of a ride tunnel through the jaws of a wolf. Yes, this farrago of fairy tale and sci-fi conspiracy flick is, on one level, howlingly obvious. But there are howls of derision and howls of amazement, and mine were of the latter kind, mostly. Director Joe Wright turns Hanna into a crazily inspired parable—a tour de force—of growing up, separating from parents, and taking on the false mother, the big bad bitch, with longbows, guns, and martial arts.
The first half of Hanna is the better by leagues. There’s a timeless quality to the early scenes in the toasty Arctic cabin, in which Hanna and her father, Erik, wear pelts and he tells her he knows she’ll one day want to leave the nest, and that when she does she’ll come face-to-face with Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett) and one of them will die. Why? That’s the mystery.
There’s no music until CIA choppers descend on the cabin with a deafening metallic shudder that segues imperceptibly into a Chemical Brothers techno-blast—and then Hanna wakes up in a subterranean room surrounded by cameras like Dalí-esque eyeballs. What follows is a stunning merger of thriller pyrotechnics and surrealism, a stroboscopic chase through tunnels past giant, swirling fans. The visual punch line in the Moroccan desert makes no geographic sense but is, as I’ve said, the amazing kind of howler.
Blanchett’s performance is the other kind. But give her points for embodying the freakiest of control freaks—compulsively flossing until her gums bleed, her frozen mask a study in murderous repression. Vying with her for overacting honors is Tom Hollander, who plays a hired assassin as a sadistic queen in a yellow tracksuit who whistles while he works (and, awkwardly, while he lurks). The narrative gets diffuse toward the end—backstories are often letdowns when they come to the front. What keeps us hooked is Ronan, a young actress of seemingly limitless abilities, and the tension she creates between Hanna’s inhumanly agile body and quizzical eyes, which turn cold only when she pulls the trigger.