Friday, April 8, 2011

Hanna: Revenge served hot

Hanna (2011) • View trailer for Hanna
2.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, and much too generously, for profanity, sensuality and relentless (often grim) violence
By Derrick Bang

Goodness, what a bizarre, unpalatable and clumsy mess.

I cannot imagine what drew director Joe Wright to this project.
On the run from yet another collection of vicious thugs, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan)
leads them on a merry chase through a dock yard filled with stacked containers.
It's a well-executed sequence, delivered with slick cinematography and clever
editing, but the flash merely serves to conceal this film's bankrupt script.

Wright is the talented filmmaker who delivered such sumptuous, intelligent and inventively photographed adaptations of the books Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist. All three are engaging dramas, impeccably acted by superb ensemble casts; all three stir our emotions and showcase a craftsman who understands how best to use every nuanced element of the collaborative motion picture art form.

Hanna, in great, staggering contrast, is a nasty, lumbering oaf of a project: a misbegotten collection of scattered, individual scenes that barely count as a “plot” at all. Seth Lochhead’s story — given additional espionage-style juice by David Farr, a veteran of the British TV series MI5 — couldn’t ever have looked good: not on paper, and certainly not once the damage was up on the screen. It’s as if Wright suddenly forgot everything he ever knew about constructing a coherent film.

Bad scripts can be awful for all sorts of reasons, but one of the greatest sins is a failure to remain true to the rules established from the beginning. If we’re to be a real-world thriller, that demands certain levels of consistency; we don’t suddenly detour into sequences that would have felt more at home in Tim Burton’s handling of Alice in Wonderland.

I’m not certain it’s possible to describe enough of this chaotic, scattershot story in order to properly illustrate its many flaws, but here goes:

We open in a barren, snowbound forest, where Erik Heller (Eric Bana) apparently has been teaching survival skills to his teenage daughter, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Atonement), ever since she was a little girl. As a result, Hanna has become a lean, mean fighting machine: an ambulatory weapon trained for some dire mission.

These early sequences, and the mysterious build-up behind them, feel like a real-world spin on the character of Hit-Girl in Kick Ass, who similarly was transformed into a slicing, dicing assassin by her father. Fair enough; it’s an intriguing concept.

Believing herself ready, Hanna insists that it’s time she return to civilization, in order to fulfill her mission. Thanks to a homing beacon that Erik allows the girl to trigger, they don’t need to wait long; their isolated cabin soon is surrounded by gun-toting paramilitary types. Erik already has vanished, promising to re-unite with the girl in Berlin; Hanna, meanwhile, demonstrates her skills by taking out a few soldiers before quietly allowing the rest to bring her ... elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” turns out to be a James Bond-ish underground facility, where Hanna is subjected to various medical tests while awaiting an audience with Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). We quickly learn that Wiegler is an uber-sinister black-ops type who had some sort of involvement with Hanna’s past, the details of which emerge in dribs and drabs, as this film progresses.

Wiegler watches dispassionately while another female agent, pretending to be her, enters Hanna’s cell. Believing that she’s in the presence of the actual Wiegler, the girl snaps the older woman’s neck, seizes several weapons, guns down various soldiers and escapes.

A major issue, before we proceed further: Are we, at this point, to identify with Hanna?

Whatever this girl’s origins — and however evil Wiegler turns out to be (and that would be very evil) — Hanna has a distressing habit of killing folks on the sidelines. Erik, elsewhere, is the same way. It’s not sufficient to claim, as Wright and Lochhead apparently would, that Hanna and her father are “good guys” because Wiegler is worse; that won’t fly.

In a word, Hanna is a psychopath: a “feral child” with no concept of social mores, because her father didn’t raise her with any. And Hanna isn’t “cute” in the manner of Chloe Grace Moretz’s aforementioned Hit Girl, because this is (supposedly) a real-world thriller, not a comic book fantasy.

But onward, ever onward...

We next endure — and that’s the operative term — an eye-popping sequence as Hanna runs, crawls, jumps, climbs and falls through the various chambers of this outré underground facility, with Wright, cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler and editor Paul Tothill going absolutely batty with shadows, smash cuts and cockeyed camera angles. This seems to go on forever, like some early German existentialist horror film on uppers.

Finally, the girl pops out of a manhole cover ... in the middle of the desert outside of Morocco.

I’d love to know how the CIA — or whoever Wiegler works for; we never do find out — managed to bury a facility of this size without being noticed. I’d also love to know more about the “conventional” entrances to this underground lair: the place where people, Jeeps and half-tracks gain access. But such questions — and there will be many, many more just like them — remain unanswered in this ill-conceived, crazy-quilt pinball game of a movie.

Wiegler, apparently not vicious enough herself, seeks assistance from Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a giggling assassin who runs a fetishist nightclub and loves to taunt victims while he tortures them. Isaacs is the sort who pulled the wings off flies as a child and, for good measure, then fed the wings to the crippled insects.

To give credit where due, Hollander certainly makes an impression. He’s very, very scary.

Rather too scary, in fact. Isaacs and Wiegler indulge in a level of violence that makes a mockery of this film’s PG-13 rating, apparently assigned solely because (for example) we don’t see a metal pole skewer its intended target; Wright cuts away just as the killer drives the shaft home. That sort of “restraint” still doesn’t make this picture suitable for younger viewers.

Hanna, meanwhile, attaches herself to an “ordinary” British family of four, gadding about on some sort of “broadening” holiday trip. The parents — Sebastian (Jason Flemyng) and Rachel (Olivia Williams) — fancy themselves as progressive free spirits, and apparently think nothing of allowing spoiled-rotten teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden) to wander off on her own in Morocco, Spain or anyplace else.

But with the possible exception of Aldo Maland, fairly credible as Sophie’s younger brother, this family isn’t “real” in any sense of the term. The two adults sound like fruit bats, and their brand of “parenting” is flat-out preposterous.

Subsequent skirmishes occur, most of them taking place in visually arresting locations that allow Wright to exploit his signature extended single takes: One involves Erik, under attack by four of Wiegler’s minions, in an expansive (and curiously deserted) train station; another finds Hanna on the run from Isaacs and his men, in a dock area laden with massive stacked containers being loaded onto a ship.

Both sequences are brilliantly choreographed, no question, but in service of what? It’s not like we care a whit about what will or won’t happen.

Ronan, still a commanding on-screen presence, tries hard to get her head into this misfit role. Lochhead occasionally plays with the notion of culture shock — Hanna knowing no more of the real world than what her father has read to her, from books — but this element of the girl’s character isn’t exploited well, or consistently. Ronan’s best scenes are those shared with Barden (well remembered for her snarky supporting performance in Tamara Drewe), when the two briefly are allowed to behave like realistic teenage girls. Alas, such moments don’t last.

Blanchett can’t begin to turn Wiegler into anything beyond a one-note villain. Her character’s sole affectation is an obsessive desire for clean teeth, which allows for close-ups of brushing, flossing and probing to the point of bleeding gums ... neither palatable nor revealing.

Bana never gets a chance to elevate Erik into anything beyond a cipher. At the end of the day — which is to say, the end of this film — we’re not even sure if we’re intended to admire him.

Just as we have no idea what finally happens to several key supporting characters.

Everything climaxes in Germany’s Spree Park, an abandoned amusement playground laden with dilapidated dinosaur statues that surround a structure — I’m not making this up — intended to be the home of the Brothers Grimm. The place is “staffed” by a lunatic, hippy-dippy magician (Martin Wuttke) who seems to Know All about Erik, Hanna and Wiegler. Supposedly. I guess.

At which point, we simply throw up our hands in exasperated frustration, and wave for the check. I’ve seen plenty of films with unsatisfying endings, but this one is particularly irritating.

Really, Joe, what were you thinking?

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