It looks like the powers that be have been holding off on the truly great films of this year until the unnecessary fever of the Oscars has worn off. Last week gave us a taste of something entertaining with Source Code, a thriller with similar vibes to the works of J.J. Abrams. This weekend finally gives us something fully rewarding in the way we always hope for. I was surprised by Joe Wright's latest feature, even if I didn't expect to be. I went in with high expectations, which weren't exceeded or diminished. I kept the idea in the back of my head constantly that Hanna might not be a great film, and that it could fail on the promises of the trailer. Rest assured that it didn't.
The film is set along the infinite canvas of Europe and Asia, with a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) being trained in the frozen wilderness by her father, former CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana). When she decides that she wants to see the world, Erik puts her ambition to the test, tasking her with killing the woman that murdered her mother, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). This leads us on a grand scale cat and mouse chase, as Eric evades agents on his way to keep Hanna safe, Wiegler hires a group of nasty thugs to find the girl, and Hanna stows away with a vacationing English family.
This really brings us into the heart of the film, because while most people complain that Hanna slows down while Hanna is traveling with the family, that's really what the film is about. It's about her adventures in the real world, finding out who she is as a person, and overcoming the ugly world that created her in the first place. As said before, it's a modern day set fairy tale, but while it draws inspiration from various sources, it is completely its own story. There are such wild bursts of originality and ambition, which you can tell from the first shot of the film. The text used in subtitles is unique in design and execution, and you can tell that Joe Wright slaved over each of these various aspects to make the film the way it is.
The film may not be necessarily about the performances, but such performances the cast gives us. Saoirse Ronan gives a more texture, frightening, and stimulating performance than I've seen from any other actress in recent memory. She carries us through wild progression of the film and her character, lulling us into believing her sweet and amusing, along with a bizarre yet appealing bit of sexiness, but occasionally flashing a darkly inhuman stare. You are always on edge, wondering who she is or who she wants to be, and the ending to the film doesn't necessarily give us an answer. It is an abrupt ending, but one that pays off in full as you think back over what you've experienced.
Eric Bana gives the most down-to-earth performance of the film, doling out some insanely gratifying action beats, but always holding onto the humanity of the situation. This isn't just murder and insanity for no reason and with no consequences. Blanchett is a real wild card in this film, playing the villain in a way that recalls the great Disney animated witches and devils, all the while bringing it to reality. You'll be fascinated with her as long as you don't mind a moment of camp at the end of the film. The cinematography in this film is absolutely gorgeous, offering several shots worthy of mention, but too many to acknowledge. The film does have an abrupt and somewhat unfinished nature to it, but it's supposed to. There are things that spit in the face of convention and clean closing, leaving some of our favorite characters in limbo without revealing their ultimate fates. I'm convinced that Hanna is the start of the next great era in film, offering something new and binding to hold onto for the following year. If this is merely a sign of things to come, which I feel like it is, it's a marvelous sign.