It’s somewhat incredible to consider, but everything about HANNA, an incredibly exciting, visually arresting, sonically fascinating, location-brilliant, well-directed, cleverly scripted movie, rests on none of these things. The entire thing – the whole weight of the movie – rests on the remarkable abilities of Saoirse Ronan, possibly the most intriguing actor working in movies today. You’ve seen her, in ATONEMENT, as the girl who makes a big mistake; she got nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She is incredible, a prodigy. The camera records her every thought and nuance as though it had a high calling to do so: she can make Eric Bana, and, even more surprising, Cate Blanchett – The Sort Of Acknowledged Best Film Actor In The World – look like they’re “acting”. And she does, in HANNA, which will forever remain, I can only imagine, the best time she will have ever had on set in her entire career (which will be life-long), because she gets to kick ass like nobody’s business.
The film’s concept is absolutely bonkers, and the only way you’ll enjoy it is to run with that. Hanna is the product / daughter of Eric Bana’s character Erik; they live in the Arctic circle, and he teaches her to kill. She’s a kid (her age is never specified; I picked her for thirteen or so). You quickly discover that he’s connected to a nefarious US organization – a “Rogue Asset” – and that she’s his protégé, and that together, they have some unfinished business involving Marissa (Blanchett), some freaky high-level super-operative within that same CIA-like agency. There’s bad blood, and Hanna is being groomed to make it clean.
What follows is absolutely nuts and completely enjoyable, none the less for being supplemented with a score, by The Chemical Brothers, that is one of the most perfectly suited to its images that I have seen in years.The beginning is fascinating and weird: there is no soundtrack as Bana and Ronan create a tiny, enclosed (and completely insane) world; but the next sequences recall RUN LOLA RUN and KICK-ASS: hyper-kinetic and action montages full of cinematic thrill-seeking (and, like RUN LOLA RUN, anchored by an unbelievably charismatic heroine). Then the film switches gear, and, it must be said, changes tone – quite intensely – for a prolonged middle section, almost totally devoid of action, where we watch a variation on the “cave child” trope: what happens when a young girl, grown in the Arctic woods, meets electricity, a friend, and music – while pursued by psychopathic Euro-freaks?
Don’t worry. The film’s raison d’être – Hanna’s skills – come back into the play. The plot is so insane I can’t ruin it (it ruins itself, which doesn’t matter) so no need to go into it more here. There is no reason to see this film for the plot. You see it for Saoirse Ronan. There’s a key scene about twenty-five minutes into this film where the camera catches her eye, and what it catches is this: Look out, because the next great actor on the world stage is me. The fact that she’s staring into Cate Blanchett’s frame of vision – and that Blanchett falls back into her chair, gasping in horror – is telling.
Jo Wright previously directed Ronan in ATONEMENT, and they’re working together again on a new ANNA KARENINA. Of course, Ronan’s playing Kitty. And as befits people who play Kitty, she’ll be on the very top of many directors’ lists for years to come. Wright is lucky to have, in the parlance, “discovered” her. He’s a very good director. But she’s an exceptional actor. She’s one of a kind.