Careful the things you say... Joe Wright’s HANNA & the combination of genres

Once upon a time... I tried to write a film script that melded noir and Grimm’s fairytales, where the femme fatale, clad in a slinky red dress, was also (in a way) Little Red Riding Hood. Where the lover of a hit man discovered his true identity from something hidden under his mattress. Evil (step)mothers, adopted children, hunters, princesses and family fortunes. Noir and fairytales have a lot in common and yet... I had real trouble finding the right tone for the piece. And, in the end, my script read too much like I was trying to get the concept to work, rather than telling a compelling story.

Saoirse Ronan as Hanna

Joe Wright’s film HANNA, screenplay by Seth Lockhead and David Farr, finds the perfect balance between a high tension thriller and a fairytale coming-of-age story. And travels further into the story of this mysterious girl than the trailer suggests.

Going in, I was worried this might be too close to Leon or La Femme Nikita – the original films of which I throughly enjoyed, but would this new film bring anything new to the table. And what would this story be saying about children and violence?

Happily, HANNA may be influenced by both of those sources, as well as The Bourne Identity, but the fairytale and coming-of-age aspects make it a very rich experience indeed. It may be high concept but it never forgets the characters at the centre, as well as the relationship between Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana).

Opening in the frozen wilderness of Finland, where Erik has taught Hanna how to hunt and how to “adapt or die”, we soon get a sense of Hanna’s limited knowledge of the modern world – while also learning how well trained she is in primal, instinctual survival games. Soon contrasted with the clean metallic surfaces of CIA Headquarters and the particularly clean and sparse furnishings of Marrisa Weigler’s (Cate Blanchett) home, Erik has decided it is time to let Hanna see the world – and drag Marissa out into the open. His exact reasoning remains oblique until late in the film, but rather than the complex justifications of a man seeking revenge, we find a simple and pure explanation that turned the film (for me) from thoroughly enjoyable into a story that really resonates.

The science fiction/conspiracy twist that is the backstory catalyst to all this is somewhat predictable, but it’s almost a maguffin. The film delves deeply into what makes Hanna tick – and there’s a strong undercurrent about what makes us who we are and how the stories we are told shape our outlook on life. And occasionally the thriller conceits and tropes take a backseat to Hanna meeting a British family on holidays in Morocco – and the bonding she does with Sophie (Jessica Barden) is truly touching.

Saoirse Ronan proves adaptable in the role, finding humanity trapped beneath the shell she has been trained to live behind. Eric Bana underplays his role as father and operative, while Cate Blanchett has an accent that is almost outrageous – suiting the fairytale aspect of the “evil stepmother” figure, while not quite tipping into camp when the thriller part of the film is considered. Her evil Aryan henchman, brutal skinhead thugs, somewhat ground her.

Thrilling thriller and captivating fairytale, Joe Wright’s HANNA is an incredible experience.


Meanwhile, also on the “combining genres” front – I keep seeing the trailer to Cowboys & Aliens and have no idea whether to expect some kind of camp genius or something terrifyingly terrible. I want to see it for Daniel Craig (tide me over until Bond 23 next year) and Olivia Wilde (Olivia Wilde!!!) and if anyone can make it work, it’s Jon Favreau. But I’m not sure what the tone of it is. Am I supposed to be laughing at it? With it? Not at all? Or should I just be clapping my hands together at how ridiculous it seems?


Anonymous said…
Awesome review. Hanna sounds really interesting. I'll definitely have to check it out.

As for Cowboys and Aliens, it plays it completely straight at least on the surface (no obvious winks to the audience, though there is a level of very submerged parody/irony for those who know the Western genre well), which kind of both works and doesn't at the same time. I really did love a lot of the visuals and the unlikely genre juxtapositions. The aliens' reason for invading is kind of brilliant. At the same time, it doesn't hold up to any level of scrutiny and I think it's a more interesting experiment than it is a fully entertaining film.
Keith Gow said…
I like the idea of Cowboys & Aliens being played straight - since that is an interesting concept. I'm sort of glad it's not a parody of either genre, though the trailer does give a nod to Western tropes - ie. the man with no name. I will probably see it for cast and director, but I'm glad to know the tone it's going for.
Fenny said…
Cowboys and Aliens - who cares what it's supposed to be, it has Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford!!!

I've seen the trailer a few times now and I've heard mixed reviews about it, but that doesn't mean I won't be seeing it next weekend (I think it opens on Wednesday here).
Keith Gow said…
Fenny, I'm not sure Harrison Ford is the reason to see anything anymore ;)

I'm sure I will see it, I just don't know when. I opens on Thursday here.
Fenny said…
I'm not sure Harrison Ford is the reason to see anything anymore ;)

Yeah, that's cos you're not a woman of a certain age :-)