Hanna (Focus Features, PG-13)

This is a sort of high-level fudging that buys the production more than a few breaks because it leaves you uncertain about whether what you’re seeing is deep or shallow.



Watching Hanna is like watching someone else play a really expensive video game, one in which the stylish presentation and synthetically-generated excitement (due in no small part to a pulsating score by the Chemical Brothers) partially compensate for the complete absence of logic in the evolving storyline. Of course few people want to spend their time watching someone else play a video game—it’s only fun when you are the one manning the controls—but the producers of Hanna are gambling that the experience is more enticing when projected on the big screen.

Hanna‘s story doesn’t make much sense even after we are supplied with a tidy packet of exposition (reminiscent of the way the plots were wrapped up in the old Thin Man movies) near the end of the film, but here’s the basic setup. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) to be the perfect fighting machine. They live in a cabin in Finland, isolated from the modern world (although they do have firearms), and their only reading matter is an old encyclopedia and a volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Hanna is now 16 and Erik figures it’s time for her to confront her fate so he digs up some kind of radio transmitter with a switch which, once activated by Hanna, will set off an alarm that will alert the CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett) of their location. For reasons unexplained until much later, Marissa really has it in for Hanna and apparently Dad’s idea is to trigger a final showdown rather than, say, try to live a normal life undercover. After all, the latter would make for a really dull video game.

Of course Hanna throws the switch (what teenager wouldn’t?). Dad beats an improbable retreat (walking into the snowy woods wearing only a business suit) and before long a troop of heavily-armed commandos descend on their rustic hut. Lots of fighting ensues, edited with the kind of extreme fragmentation that disguises the improbability of what we are to believe is taking place before our eyes. This sets Hanna off on her hero’s journey which, unfortunately, is oddly devoid of tension; there are some effective scares but little suspense, and we never truly feel that she is in danger because it has already become obvious that if anything happens to her it’s game (and movie) over.

Of course Hanna meets various personages and undergoes various trials on her quest. Most of those she meets are interchangeable, garden-variety baddies but Tom Hollander, sporting a bad bleach job and questionable wardrobe, at least makes for an impressively creepy villain. Meanwhile a British family on holiday lends some comic relief as well as a few tugs of the heartstrings, mainly thanks to the mother Rachel (Olivia Williams) and teenage daughter Sophie (an engaging Jessica Barden).

Hanna is a quintessential summer blockbuster with big stars, lots of action, first-rate technical package and a big theme that you can choose to either embrace (giving the story layers of meaning) or ignore (allowing you to concentrate on the action) because the film works just as well either way. This is a sort of high-level fudging that buys the production more than a few breaks because it leaves you uncertain about whether what you’re seeing is deep or shallow, wondrously complex or just incompetent. To take a nagging example, Cate Blanchett’s Marissa could give Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood a run for the money in the "worst and least consistent accent" department; is that meant to signal that the character is a faker or did they just not bother to get it right? I tend towards the latter theory because there’s so much that is slapdash about this film once you leave the special effects department.

Saoirse Ronan really needs to have a sit-down with her agent because this is the second big-budget, fancy-effects, doesn’t-make-a-lick-of-sense film she’s starred in within the past two years. The first was Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones (2009), and while I think Ronan did very well in an otherwise preposterous film it can’t be doing her career any good to make of habit of appearing in such material. We know Ronan can act—she was nominated for an Oscar for Atonement in 2008—so how about letting us see her do some more of that? | Sarah Boslaugh

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