Friday, April 22, 2011

To Eat An Egg

Last night's movie: Joe Wright's Hanna (2011).

Saoirse Ronan plays the title role, a teenaged girl who lives isolated in the Arctic wilderness with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Mr. Heller is apparently a defector from a secret agency, a man whose background has given him a wide variety of survival skills including all manner of weaponry and hunting skills. His full-time job appears to be teaching these skills to his daughter. Exactly what they are doing out in the wilderness in complete isolation is not immediately clear, but we come to see that it has something to do with keeping Hanna herself out of sight. The agency in question (or at least the part of it we're concerned with) is headed by the icily malevolent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who has detailed knowledge of, and interest in, Hanna's case--apparently Hanna is a product of something in which both her father and Ms. Wiegler were involved. When Hanna's father has given her all the training he is able, she is released into the wild, as it were--left to survive out in the larger world on her wits.

Initially, I thought that the character of Erik Heller might be a little bit like Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne: a self-contained creature of extraordinary competence in all things who is set loose on an adventure. But it's Hanna's story, and she's really the Bourne analog here. And while Jason Bourne is surprised after his amnesia event to find himself in possession of amazing skills and instincts, Hanna is hinted from the outset as being something more than the product of extensive training. Still, the similarities are there: both respond instinctively to the slightest perception of threat, and both possess skills which, while seeming at times quite excessive to the threats presented, are nonetheless effective.

The film is wonderfully cast; I can't imagine improving on Saorise Ronan (apparently it's pronounced SEHR-shuh) in the title role, an inscrutable young woman who seems to exist suspended in a kind of stylistic isolation. She is attractive enough to spend two hours looking at, but not stunning, and she does a fabulous job inhabiting a character who seems hard to pigeonhole: part typical young girl, part tomboy, part caveman and part something else. This sense of a person raised outside of any human culture--and having been given extensive book knowledge of things she's never experienced firsthand--being suddenly plunked into the middle of a city and having to make her way is pretty well played. It's a lot to try and put in a movie already dense with plot elements, and this could make a story unto itself. Still, I thought it was nicely, subtly done. (I especially love the contrast between Hanna and a more typical American teenager, played here by Jessica Barden.) Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are also on the money in their roles.

I also appreciate that there is no sexual element to Hanna's story. Not because I'm in any way prudish or object to sexual content in movies--quite the contrary--but because I'm so accustomed to Hollywood falling back on the easiest of levers to engage the human psyche, usually because there is an overt failure to engage us with story. (Bogey says to Peter Lorre in Casablanca: "I don't mind a parasite--I object to a cut-rate one." It's like that; I don't mind sex appeal--I object to a too-easy resort to it.) Director Wright has stayed on point here and made his story stick.

Well, mostly. If I have a criticism, it's that all this is an engaging and fascinating setup for a plot that never quite delivers its payoff. That Hanna survives her ordeal will be a surprise to no one, and the manner in which she survives is also not particularly shocking for this kind of movie (though that doesn't diminish its entertainment value). But there's no sense of any wrongs being righted, or of any revelations being laid before us. The story begins with what seems like a strong story arc, but the arc seems to dissipate after the apex and never reaches the ground. Like the Bourne movies, this one seems calculated to leave the end open for a continuation--a development I would welcome. But a movie that only works because of what is promised to follow is to me less than a full success.

Grade: B+


dbackdad said...

Cool. Thanks for the review. I'm going to see the movie this weekend. I liked Ronan in City of Ember and Atonement. I liked her performance in The Lovely Bones ... I just didn't care for the movie.

wunelle said...

I've only seen her in Atonement, and thought she did a great job (even if she's... hard to love).

She's dynamite in this.

GreenCanary said...

I really liked this movie! Your summation of it is correct, though. For as entertaining as it was, and for all of the potential it had, something just didn't pan out. The story was rife with possibility, some explored, some not.

I loved Hanna's role as a fairy tale character, lost in a fantastic world of make-believe, juxtaposed against a grim (grimm! Ha!) reality in which horror and pain replace childhood innocence. It was disturbing in a good way.

Oh, and the soundtrack totally kicked ass :-)