‘Hanna’ saved by performances

Justin Marietti

I was a little surprised when I realized that pursuit thriller “Hanna” was directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”). An action movie is a far cry from his previous films, so I believed that “Hanna” would be a great test of his directorial skills.

Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, who stunned movie-goers with her amazing performance in “The Lovely Bones.” She is raised by her father, former CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana), in a bitter region of northern Finland near the Arctic Circle. She is trained from her childhood in the art of fighting, as well as how to survive in difficult conditions. Above all, her father stresses the importance of defending herself at all times. “You must always be ready,” he says, and he tests her skills day and night.

In a strange way, “Hanna” is like imagining what would happen if Jodi Foster’s character in “Nell” gave birth to Jason Bourne’s (“The Bourne Identity”) child. Heller teaches Hanna to speak several different languages, all in preparation for the journey that will take place when she is ready to embark upon the wilderness (or, the rest of the world). When Hanna begins exhibiting signs of curiosity toward the outside world, Heller gives her the choice to leave. All she has to do is flip the switch on an old airplane transponder, and the CIA will be aware of their location, which in turn sets Heller’s plan into motion. Less than a day later, Hanna flips the switch.

CIA lifer Marissa (Cate Blanchett) has been searching for Hanna and Heller for years. She has almost assumed that the two are dead, and the transponder signal shows up. This is when the film attempts to shift into high gear. While the idea behind this movie is creative, it is not necessarily a fresh concept. However, when a director has actors and actresses of this caliber, it can help an average film seem a little better than its counterparts. Ronan, Bana and Blanchett are able to do just that.

Much of this movie is about the chase; Hanna’s character always seems to be just a step ahead of her captors. Most of the villains in this movie are quite laughable (one of these guys wore stone-washed jeans, and very strongly resembled the YouTube sensation “Techno Viking”) with the exception of Marissa, who fills her role of “Wicked Witch” quite well. She is a cold, calculating killer whose only concern is to silence the father-and-daughter duo.

At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the mysterious nature of the plot. Much of the film leaves the viewer completely baffled as to what the actual connections among Marissa, Heller and Hanna really are. Why does Marissa hate Heller so much? Why has he trained Hanna to be some kind of warrior?  In some films, this sort of mystique adds to the story, but it doesn’t work for this one. On top of that, there were some key elements in the plot that I walked away feeling pretty skeptical about: like, how exactly did Hanna shoot that arrow near the end of the movie? Or why didn’t the two of them just kill Marissa in her sleep right from the start? I believe that little details like these can ruin a film’s potential.

However, flaws like this are diluted by some top-notch acting, especially by Ronan. I think she’s probably the best young actress in all of Hollywood right now (and she was only 16 when this movie was filmed). Her performance alone makes this film worth seeing.