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Hanna
Starring Cate Blanchett,
Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana

SURVIVALIST: Saoirse Ronan brings depth to a one-note character in ‘Hanna.’ Courtesy photo.


stars

There’s nothing better than a good thriller—especially one where all the cylinders are firing. It’s rare to find a compelling thriller in an era where animated kid films and soulless spectacle rules the day. Color me eight shades of happy when, amongst the pile of garbage that has filled Cineplexes this year, I came across a gem like “Hanna.” Much like the excellent “Source Code,” it’s a triumph of execution.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised in the isolation of a frozen tundra. Her father Erik (Eric Bana), a former intelligence agent gone rogue, has taken the path of a survivalist. He teaches Hanna how to survive in this stark wasteland. She has excelled at learning a variety of languages, how to live off the land and how to kill someone in four seconds. She has been raised without the benefit of modern conveniences: no television, no running water, not a single luxury. Her entire existence seems to be building toward an inevitable confrontation that will require her to kill or be killed.

Clearly, this is not the kind of home life that is going to win anyone “Father of the Year.” One day, Hanna declares that she’s ready. An old transmitter is activated, divulging their location to the shadowy organization that has been searching for Erik and his offspring for 16 years. The lead agent on this assignment is an ice-cold piece of work named Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett). She’s the kind of a frigid harpy that could castrate a man with nothing more than a dirty look.

Hanna is captured and taken to a mysterious base where she’s interrogated about her father’s whereabouts The tables are turned when she goes into survival mode and begins dropping Black Op agents like they’re going out of style. She escapes into the Moroccan desert, and the film shifts into a lower gear.

Having been so far removed from society, Hanna finds herself equally shocked and pleasantly surprised at the little things, like electricity and cars. There’s a sense of awe and wonder as she travels through the unknown, experiencing so many things for the first time: friendship with another girl and the feelings stirred up when she meets a teenage boy. This would be a minor problem for most 16-year-olds, but it’s exacerbated by the hired assassins who are trying to murder her.

The plot is a fairly by-the-numbers affair. It’s the kind of effective, procedural-style storytelling found in the Jason Bourne movies: a hardened killer struggling to find an identity.  Hanna’s struggle for identity is more philosophical than literal. She has never lived, and she has to try to shoehorn the revelations of life while attempting to avenge the death of her mother. It’s a strange and interesting dynamic. Which brings me to my next point: There should be something shocking about the kind of brutal violence being perpetrated by a teenage girl.

There’s a sense of sympathy being pushed by the director, Joe Wright, as if we should empathize with this character in spite of her remorseless killing. Mind you, most of the dispatched are soulless monsters, but Hanna doesn’t really know that. She’s a brainwashed machine. Because she’s a kid, the brutality she exhibits should seem shocking, but it never comes across that way.

Maybe we’ve been desensitized to the idea of violence being perpetrated by children. After seeing movies like “Kick Ass,” where a 13 -year-old girl murders criminals by the dozen, and tripe like “Sucker Punch,” where samurai sword-wielding teenagers mow down armies of foes without so much as blinking, has the concept of teenagers committing acts of heinous violence lost its shock value?

Fortunately, most of what makes “Hanna” work is not reliant on the action but the acting.  Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett do a fantastic job of bringing some much needed gravitas to a paper-thin concept. Most of the credit goes to Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) who brings a lot of texture to a one-note character. The movie forces her to be a sponge, absorbing and killing everything.

This is a very good, very predictable film that is saved by excellent performances, perfect pace and an amazing score by The Chemical Brothers. There are holes in this movie, but the right pieces are in place. The action is tight, and the movie never devolves to a point of absurdity. This is surprising since a movie with a preposterous plot like this could have easily derailed.

There are hints of excellence in “Hanna,” moments that harken back to the best work of filmmakers like Luc Besson. Kinetic action, good performances, and just the right amount of cheese make “Hanna” one of the year’s more entertaining offerings.

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