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Review: Hanna (2011)

May 22, 2011

I’m not usually one for action films. Okay, that’s a big generalisation to make, but when people say ‘action film’ my immediate thought is of Bruce Willis spouting ape-ish one-liners in Die Hard, or of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover exhaustively joking about racial difference in Lethal Weapon. Frankly, I get bored.

So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Joe Wright’s Hanna. Yes, it has its fair share of clichés [spoiler warning], what with its narrative of genetic experimentation and post-Matrix martial arts sequences, but for all that, the film is engaging, cerebral and at times genuinely affecting.  The cast is unexpectedly impressive for the film’s generic placing (even if I did mistake German actress Gudrun Ritter for Dame Judi Dench), and Cate Blanchett is once again masterfully villainous as government agent Marissa Viegler — think of an evil Agent Scully with a Southern drawl and you’re pretty much there.

Hanna adopts all the fashionable visuals of the modern-day actioner, using slow-motion violence and highly-choreographed feats of gymnastics, but there is a brutality here that keeps the fight-scenes from slipping into monotony. On several occasions I found myself hissing in sympathy when some thug or another is clubbed with something heavy and metal, and the cries of the caribou Hanna shoots in the opening scene are quite unsettling (at least to me). But let me make one thing clear: there is a lot more to the cinematography of Hanna than fancy hand-to-hand combat.

Aesthetically, Wright is the heir both of Hitchcock and Tykwer. The repetition of circular motifs and almost nauseating use of editing (one early scene is cut so that the entire  shot actually spins disjointedly) evokes Vertigo, coming to a head as Marissa slips and falls from a tower in an abandoned amusement park in the closing scenes. Both visually and aurally, Hanna is greatly indebted to Run Lola Run. Setting the latter part of the film in Berlin and soundtracking it with a thrumming, relentless dance beat is an undisguised homage to Tykwer, and the slick movements of Hanna’s combat sequences inevitably conjure thoughts of game theory (anyone who’s played one of the recent Prince of Persia games will know what I mean).

With a careful mix of the 1990s European art cinema, the modern shoot-’em-up and contemporary sci-fi, what results is a stylish and arresting action movie that’s hard-hitting and tough-talking, but still a lot of fun. British teenager Sophie provides some joyfully unexpected laugh-out-loud moments, while Tom Hollander gives an eerie turn as a camp-yet-sadistic torture expert. Even if the thought of a gun-toting testosterone-pumping action film turns your stomach, I say give Hanna a fair shot (pun intended). I think she’ll surprise you.

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