If you saw the Oscar-nominated Brit-lit drama Atonement a few years back, odds are you didn’t emerge thinking that its director, Joe Wright, and its teenage sensation, the preternaturally intense Saoirse Ronan, ought to team up again for a high-octane action flick. Yet they’ve done a remarkably sturdy job with Hanna, which never amounts to much more than a tension delivery system but at least has the courage of its convictions, along with a sense of spatial coherence.
Opening in the snowy wilds of northern Finland, the movie wastes no time in establishing the semi-feral nature of the title character (Ronan), who’s been raised in isolation by her ex-intelligence agent father, Erik (Eric Bana), and trained to be a ruthless killing machine. And kill she does, when she finally makes her way to civilization—except that Hanna’s primary target, Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), a Texan CIA baddie who might have murdered Hanna’s mom, craftily sends in an impostor to get whacked in her place. The subsequent cat-and-mouse saga, which also includes Erik (on a parallel narrative track), finds our heroine scarcely able to catch her breath between outrunning her pursuers and attempting to make sense of a world she’s never known.
Wright’s penchant for epic single-take tracking shots made his Pride and Prejudice seem needlessly busy, and came across as almost obscene when imposed upon the Battle of Dunkirk in Atonement. Here, on the other hand, in a somberly frivolous context, that sort of technical hot-dogging looks positively elegant, especially compared to the hyperactive cutting of Michael Bay. Great fun, too, is the film’s unapologetic use of fairy-tale imagery, which starts out seeming affected and ends up, at the Berlin-set climax, crossing over into goofy-sublime.
What’s more, Ronan is clearly the real deal, to the point where placing her opposite Blanchett starts to feel like a premature torch-passing exercise. Her stoically soulful performance often threatens to overwhelm the somewhat flimsy material, especially in a tender interlude involving Hanna’s friendship with a vacationing British girl (Jessica Barden). There isn’t much to Hanna apart from its first-rate cast and Wright’s evident pleasure in creating one whip-snap set piece after another, but these days, frankly, that’s plenty.