The idea of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright making an action/thriller sounds like a contradiction of terms. It’s like Mike Leigh suddenly going all mainstream and announcing he plans on making a big budget space opera, or, lo and behold, Michael Bay directing an art house film without anything blowing up. It just doesn’t work. Or, of course, that’s the theory. With Hanna however, that’s exactly what works in its favour to make it such an interesting and unique film. It’s not what you expect; it’s the reverse. Hanna takes your expectations and blows them apart in a shower of techno beats, coming-of-age dramedy and one-shot action scenes.
Hanna plays out like a warped modern-day fairytale, following its titular character as she fights her way across North Africa and Europe in a bid to find out the answers behind who and what she is. Despite having a distinct whiff of the Bourne franchise, the story does have plenty of surprises up its sleeve. Chief amongst them is a middle act that bats strongly against genre conventions, swaying into comedy drama when Hanna stows away with a travelling British family. Whilst this does bring the story to a standstill, it allows Saoirse Ronan to put some substance behind the action and flesh out her miniature hit woman.
And what an astonishing central performance it is. Ronan effortlessly conveys the solitude of a girl that has grown up away from society and all its frills. In a wonderfully acted – and directed – scene, Hanna comes into contact with TVs, light switches and an overhead fan for the first time – recalling memories of Apocalypse Now. Simultaneously showcasing both fear and wonder at her new findings, Ronan’s performance is refreshingly layered for someone waving a gun about. She’s a dab-hand when it comes to the action scenes as well.
Oh the action scenes: the one hurdle where Hanna could potentially have fallen apart. Whilst Joe Wright has proven that he’s got previous directing form, he’s not exactly well-known for orchestrating big-budget action set-pieces but, boy has he nailed it. Choreographing some truly exciting action scenes, Wright infuses Hanna with a welcome dose of energy and, oddly for the genre, it doesn’t involve editing the action within an inch of its life. Instead, Wright proves that that staggering one-shot from Atonement wasn’t a fluke, it was just a warm-up for Hanna’s fantastic fight scenes. The crème de la crème is an eight-minute tracking shot following Eric Bana down into a subway station before he is attacked by a platoon of CIA grunts. It really is an amazing technical achievement, and gives the action a uniquely fresh perspective that sets it apart from anything else.
Ultimately Hanna’s visual and aural assault might be a little bit too much for some people. Narrowly towing the line between art house and mainstream, Hanna is an action film with a mind of its own, and one that will definitely split opinion. But, with a mesmerising central performance from Saoirse Ronan, a unique story and strong directing from Joe Wright, it’s hard to fault Hanna’s thrills and spills. More dark fairytale than revenge thriller, Hanna is the perfect antidote to all those sequels, prequels and remakes.