Prior to moving to Savannah I spoke with a friend who gave me advice when I expressed concern about colder weather in the winter (since I’m originally from Florida). His advice: Smart people adapt, stupid people die. This is the tagline and theme of Hanna. Without being sentimental, Hanna explores innocence, survival, and female independence.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is sixteen and has grown up with her father Erik (Eric Bana) in the wilderness in Finland. She has been trained to hunt, fight, and survive, obtained from a robotic education thanks to Erik reading the encylopedia to her at bedtime. But she also takes brief glances through a battered copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Like a wolf ready to leave the pack, Hanna turns to Erik and says, “I’m ready.” With a flick of a switch on a remote control, the CIA is now after Hanna, who is in turn after CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). The CIA have captured what they believe to be just a harmless teenage female, when in fact she is one of the most dangerous teenagers they have come across, and the real hunt begins with Hanna’s reintroduction into civilization.
One particular encyclopedia entry that Erik reads to Hanna often is that of Laika, the dog that the Russians sent to space. She always wants the story to change and for Laika to return safely to earth. But she knows that this does not happen. This story reflects Hanna: an innocent being exploited by a government, sent out to complete a task knowing that she is not meant to return. It reflects Hanna’s yearning for the innocent to be welcomed and loved, but instead, she is in the middle of a family affair and an aborted government experiment. Where Laika is a true account, the use of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is an important reference that sets up a fantastic third act and an even greater climax that exemplifies the whole film.
Director Joe Wright splits his pacing between rapid editing and long, long takes quite often. Early in the film we find Hanna running during her training, which uses rapid montage that ultimately begins to spin out of control, a la Run Lola Run. Later, we are subjected to longer takes that allow the moments to solidify and reveal meaning. Furthermore, the film is book-ended by references to The Great Train Robbery that are exceptionally well placed and meaningful.
Wiegler is cold and firey, represented by her pasty white skin and short ginger hair. She awakes in her stark white bedroom that further represents her isolation and cold demeanor. She is a professional woman who has made other choices in her life, leading her to be a loveless hunter. Hanna, on the other hand, grew up in the snow-covered Nordic forest yet bundled in warmth. She reacts well to those who truly show love and easily befriends an English family traveling around Morocco. Like a true hunter, like a true survivor, she has an innate sense of those who are interested in her well-being.
Wright starts off on the right path when using the sound of guns over the action, like he did in Atonement, where the clacking of typewriter keys gave the impression that the film was being written as it unfolded, and so the sound added to the suspense and paranoia. Wright takes a turn for the worse and incorporates the techno soundtrack of the Chemical Brothers far too often. Each electronic track becomes less and less welcome in the narrative. Even the sounds of guns are blatantly overly stylized and far too loud. It is beyond jarring and unhealthy at these decibels.
Where Sucker Punch ultimately failed to portray strong, independent females, Hanna truly provides its audience with a strong female character who is ready to take on what comes at her. In fact, Hanna makes the first move. Wright has always focused on strong female characters in the past, with Pride and Prejudice and, of course, Atonement. Hanna adapts to her surroundings and immediately knows where she belongs in a situation; she is a born soldier.