A sandy, ropey-haired beauty with a blood-spackled face slides under a door just a fraction of a second before it slams shut. Running, leaping, shooting, punching, snapping, diving, Hanna whizzes by like a trippy, elated spin through a nightclub.
Propelled by a score written by the Chemical Brothers, Hanna is a mash-up, so densely packed with literary and filmic allusions that pausing to consider them all is to sink into a subtextual bog and miss the immediate, almost urgent pleasure that’s unfolding on the screen before you.
Saoirse Ronan, who is so angelic in countenance as to sometimes appear translucent, plays Hanna, a 16-year old vessel of martial punishment that the world has never seen. Reared in the monastic seclusion of a mythic and pristine north— a place where snow falls as beautiful and heavy as ash— Hanna is taught by her father (Eric Bana) the merciless ways of the warrior. He does this with robotic intensity, dispensing without sentiment, personal history or joy. In spite of the still wonders in which they live, their interior remains an apocalyptic landscape, one haunted by an unknown past and threatened by a surely violent future that could explode upon them at any moment. (Like one of those Terminator movies only in the snowy woods of a fairy tale.)
Hanna, moving inexorably into her adolescence, has an implicit appetite for more than what is at hand, and like some sort of Killbot Pinocchio who wants to become real, is launched across Europe where she must kill or be killed by her enemy. Marissa, as played by Cate Blanchett, is as tense and remorseless as an icicle looming over your head. She’s is the sort of archetypal role that Tilda Swinton habitually knocks out of the park, but Blanchett is Blanchett, and that’s a pretty awesome thing, too.
Smiling slowly, her lips curling upward as if she was the offspring of The Joker and The Grinch, Blanchett is deliciously campy. Unhurried, her words drip with southern menace, much like Gary Oldman’s character in The Fifth Element, where he channeled the folksy nut job cadences of one time Presidential candidate Ross Perot. (I was struck by the parallels— in particular between the Blanchett/Oldman and Ronan/Jovovich roles— in the two movies, but that’s a different investigation.) Other villainous creatures in the film include a couple of snarling skinheads and a velour leisure suit in loafers who is as cruel and sadistic as a figure skating coach.
However, at heart, the movie is a rite of passage. Having known only the company of her father for her first 16 years, the only technology she comprehends are her hands and weapons. She’s never had a friendship, never enjoyed the televised pleasures of “Deal or No Deal,” or heard what music might sound like. Her I’ve-Been-To-Europe trip, for most of us an amusement park ride of sex, hedonism, and a quick handshake with global antiquity, is for her a journey into modern civilization. Through Hanna’s eyes, it’s a truly alien landscape, as are other people, and she approaches it all with a child-like wonder and a killer’s instinct. With Hanna, sexual tension takes on a completely different complexity, for in an awkward moment before a first kiss, she might actually break your neck.
It’s a whiz-bang action flick, one that’s pleasantly leavened by a beautiful, painterly sense of composition. For all the kinetic and jagged passages that confine us to the immediate action that’s taking place on screen— fight passages choreographed as lyrically as dance—there are counterpoints. The music will shift from the propulsive trance of the nightclub to the airy, chill of the lounge, and visually, beautiful vistas and the exoticism of the everyday unfold before us like little treasures to be admired before the roller coaster takes off again.
Radiant by firelight, there is flamenco at night. Beautiful and shy Spanish boys play foosball. A jet screams across the sky. A cheap fluorescent light flickers.
All of these things are sources of wonder for Hanna, as they should be for us, too, a reminder of the magical and mysterious contained in the everyday. Hanna, like most people her age, doesn’t know exactly who she is or will become. As her father said by means of explanation of her explosive presence in the world, “Kids grow up,” and there is nothing that can be done to contain that potential, beauty, and fury. Hanna, in perfect command of her body, is a feral dream, but one contained within a mess of adolescent uncertainties.
Regardless, the important thing to know is that it’s a wicked fun and kick-ass action movie, and one that maintains an arty, even beautiful integrity. It’s exactly the sort of movie one wants to unexpectedly dissolve into, something that lifts us out of ourselves so that we leave the weight of the body behind in the dark of the theatre, if just for 90 minutes.