Disclaimer: My little sister’s name is Hannah, though with an additional “h” unlike the protagonist of Joe Wright’s latest film. The phonetic similarity of the names caused me to equate Saoirse Ronan’s character with my sister and made for an interesting movie going experience.
Hanna is a film about a genetically modified girl (Saoirse Ronan) stolen away by her father (Eric Bana) to a remote snowy wilderness where he raises her in the way he thinks best – by reading to her out of a reference book and training her how to kill or be killed all the while conspicuously denying her access to music. When she decides she is old enough, he allows her to push a red button that alerts a long-suffering CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) of her presence and begins a deadly game of cat and mouse that touches two continents and results in the deaths of a whole lot of people at mostly Hanna’s hands.
Hannais as well-crafted as its protagonist’s genetic code. The action is as brisk as Hanna’s bow and arrow. The acting on all counts is as convincing as the innocent blue of Hanna’s eyes. Tom Hollander even manages to bring credibility to the film’s only stock character – the dyed-blonde, gay, German, assassin Issacs.
In short, director Joe Wright knows how to make an engaging movie. He excels particularly at integrating the world of the story with the film’s sound effects and score. Wright somehow manages to film sound. Scenes from his previous films come to mind – Liz (Kiera Knightly) spinning on a swing in Pride and Prejudice as Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s beautiful piano playing seems to make the season change around her, the CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! of the typewriter’s keys as Brioni (Romola Garai) clops down the hospital hallway in her nurse uniform shoes as she is trying to atone for her misdeeds as a child by retelling the fateful tale of her sister and friend in Atonement, the haunting way Nathaniel Ayers’ (Jamie Foxx) cello fills an L.A. overpass in The Soloist.
In Hanna, electronic musicians The Chemical Brothers provide the soundtrack, and Wright weaves their score into the world of the film. In one especially masterful scene, as Hanna crawls through the labyrinthine passageways of a CIA interrogation facility, the fluorescent lights pop on and off in time with the music, turning Hanna’s escape into a sort of dance, highlighting the syncopated movement of this girl who has never heard music. Joe Wright knows how to do things with sound and image that are breathtaking.
That being said…
I wish Wright hadn’t turned his considerable skills to this story.
When it’s all said and done, Hanna is a very depressing film. Very simply, this is a tale of lost innocence. It begins with images of pristine, snow-capped hills and slumbering, snow white swans, and it ends in an abandoned, decrepit amusement park in the shadow of the fangs of tunnel shaped liked the open jaws of a wolf. In between a sixteen-year-old girl does horrific things to countless people oftentimes using nothing but her bare hands.
I have the same problem with this movie that I had with Kick-A**. That film, if you remember it, and I pray you do not, is a movie about a down and out high school boy and a father and his seven year old daughter who dole out violent, vigilante justice to a ring of local criminals. The flick is an unsettling combination of scenes of high school girls being groped, sex behind soda shops, and first person perspective killing sprees forced upon the audience without conscience or moral direction. Kick-A** is more filth than film.
Hanna is very similar, though judging simply by content, not quite as depraved. Judging by ethos however, these two films are close cousins. Both expect their audience to cheer the actions of their protagonists. The audience is supposed to relish the murder of Hanna’s enemies. This isn’t too much to ask in itself – we cheer at the destruction of evil in films all the time – but there is something different about watching evil brutally dispensed with at the hands of a little girl. And not just a little girl, but a little girl who has had all grace and compassion programmed out of her psyche.
And even this would be okay if the films themselves condemned the brutality. Were Hanna and Kick-A** satirical or even ironic, we could applaud them. But they are not, and so we must not. These films expect us to enjoy the violence. (And more tragic still, because both of these films are so well made, that becomes a very easy thing to do.)
These films need a “Maximus moment.” Remember in Gladiator, when Maximus, after vanquishing yet another arena of horrors, turns to the crowds (and the theater audience) and yells, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?” In that moment he begs our consciences to question the right-ness of enjoying such a terrible, bloody spectacle.
These films need that moment. Otherwise, we are simply a mob distracting ourselves in the dying days of whatever empire we are part of gathered in a colliseum of our own building cheering the deaths of our sons and daughters in games of our own creation.
It is coincidence that my little sister’s name and the name of Hanna’s protagonist are the same, but it is a happy coincidence, because it pulled me out of the story long enough to notice what was going on in the film.
Hanna(h) is a child. We owe her better than this.