Weinberg Reviews HANNA

Strong women are nothing new, of course, unless you're talking about "disproportionately strong women in Hollywood flicks," in which case they are sort of new. What somehow began with Charlie's Angels, survived Catwoman and two Tomb Raider movies, and ran through movies as disparate as Run Lola Run, Resident Evil, and D.O.A., is now more or less mainstream. And while obviously that's a good thing (because, let's face it, women do kick ass) the resulting films are a mixed bag at best. Just a few weeks ago we got the faux-empowerment of the scantily-clad lovelies of Sucker Punch ... and now we see the other side of the coin: Joe Wright's Hanna, which is easily one of the most interesting examples of ferocious femininity since Kick-Ass. Or, more specifically, the always fantastic Leon (aka The Professional).

So with a brief and incomplete history out of the way, one can cut to the point: Hanna is one of the weirdest, coolest, and most unexpectedly engaging examples of "young women kickin' ass," and it works so well for the same reason that Neil Marshall's The Descent works so well: the gender of the antagonist(s) is not the point. One could argue that having a pre-teen girl as your action flick's reluctant hero is slightly more novel than having a boy in the lead role -- and on that we'd be in agreement. Hanna seems considerably more interested with the juxtaposition of "assumed weakness" over "clear authority" than it is in blowing a trumpet for how strong women are.

Encased in a showy but undeniably cool fairy-tale structure, Hanna is about a young girl who has been trained (in isolation) on how to survive. We can tell that her father (a quietly commanding Eric Bana) is some sort of spy or scientist ... but he's also a father who cares deeply for his daughter. Once the CIA's Agent Vigler (Cate Blanchett, icily cool) is alerted to the presence of Erik Heller and young Hanna, we're off on a ridiculously elaborate series of chases that bounces all over Europe. Father and daughter are separated, but they have a plan to meet at a place called Grimm's, and the director has a very good time bouncing back between Hanna's tale and her father's numerous misadventures.

Wright and screenwriters David Farr and Seth Lochhead get the most out of their miniature "Bourne" concept, and the director is crafty enough to bring a distinctly strange visual sensibility to an otherwise potentially generic tale of chase, escape, exposition, and fight. 18-year-old Saoirse Ronan is infinitely watchable as the title character, which means that even when the film slows down (it happens more than once in Act II), you'll have no problem simply enjoying the gal's odd-yet-ingratiating performance. Hanna is a genius, a spy, and a trained killer in many respects, but she's also just a young girl who's never heard music before. Bana provides strong authority in his scenes, while others are simply stolen by a villainous Cate Blanchett, a strangely disturbing Tom Hollander, and an wonderfully kooky couple played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng. (Young Jessica Barden, as the odd couple's sassy daughter, is nothing short of hilarious.)

At its core, Hanna is little more than a basic action flick with the "gimmick" of a young girl as the central character, but in this case the beauty lies in the details: Wright's commitment to long, smooth "one-take" action scenes, a pulse-punching Chemical Brothers score that fits the film like a funky glove, strange and perhaps ultimately unnecessary digressions from minor yet interesting characters, and a playful fairy-tale vibe that does in 15 minutes what Sucker Punch couldn't do in 110.
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