Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ever wondered what a British arthouse action film would feel like? Wait no more, for we have Hanna, possibly one of the most peculiar action films ever made.

There’s nothing particularly original in this movie. Thrown in some Bourne Identity, add some La Femme Nikita and sprinkle with everything from Leon to A Clockwork Orange to Mission: Impossible to Batman Begins to the James Bond movies to Grimms’ fairytales. This is a film with lots of influences.

Sadly, Hanna doesn’t rise beyond its ambitions. It desperately wants to be an arthouse actioner. It wants to shake the genre up and defy its tired conventions by making a quasi fairytale thriller. But although its beautiful to look at and although its reasonably well acted, it’s also a messy, shallow, cold, sterile, mean-spirited film. I’ve seen a great many movies that are more hard-edged than this but few have felt so grubby.

Violence in films rarely bothers me but here it’s particularly manipulative and pointless. It doesn’t advance the story and it doesn’t really tell us anything about the characters. People are tortured and stabbed and shot just to keep us on our toes and to show that the characters committing the acts are badasses that aren’t to be messed with. Cate Blanchett shoots a defenceless old lady, Tom Hollander stabs an Arab in the neck, Eric Bana kills a couple of cops etc. etc.

The scene with the old lady is particularly baffling. You see, Hanna was part of a CIA plan to create genetically altered super soldiers. The plan was a failure and everyone involved was killed. The only people to escape were Hanna and her surrogate father, Erik, played by Eric Bana. Turns out that the old lady is Hanna’s grandmother and she knows all about the secret plan. Quite why she wasn’t rubbed out beforehand, I’m not sure. But killing her now seems particularly stupid. Keep her under surveillance and she might unwittingly lead you to the girl. But no, she’s shot in the head to give the audience a jolt.

Part of the reason that everything is so broad and over the top is that it obviously wants to be a modern day fairytale. Marissa (Cate Blanchett) is the wicked witch/big bad wolf while Hanna is a demented Snow White/Red Riding Hood, living relatively peacefully in her ridiculously idyllic cabin in the woods. But there are no layers to this film. I never really felt that Hanna grew as a character. She started off as a functional psychopath and ended the film slightly less psycho. Indeed, it’s actually annoying that when she eventually says that she no longer wants to kill people - it’s when Cate Blanchett is pointing a gun at her. Now is not the time to find the peace and love in you.

The mid-section of Hanna certainly doesn’t help the film. Hanna gets taken in by a hippie family that seem more dysfunctional than Hanna and her surrogate father (note: Hanna and her father randomly fight in the middle of night to test Hanna’s combat readiness). These hippies argue and twitter on about a load of nonsense. Joe Wright is trying to make them seem like a believably complex family unit, but they come over as cliches. These are the type of people that you would cross the street to avoid if you were holidaying in Europe. And the family’s daughter is repellent. She’s a spoilt little princess who loves to discuss fake boobs and designer bags. Of course there’s meant to be more to her than this - she’s meant to have hidden depths - but I didn’t want Hanna to learn anything from her; I think she’s better off remaining as the Fuhrer’s wet dream (a blonde, Germanic, genetically-enhanced assassin).

And this kills the heart of the film. Through experience and exposure to the beauties of the outside world, Hanna is meant to find her humanity. But what’s out there? Squabbling hippies and posh chavs? Get back to that cabin, Hanna!

I was also disappointed at the failure to flesh out Eric Bana’s character. Effectively, he’s training Hanna to exert revenge on Marissa - Marissa attempted to kill Erik and successfully killed Hanna’s mother. But the character is two dimensional. Plus he’s a key part in two of the film’s hokiest moments.

Hokey Moment Number One: As Hanna’s psycho-Yoda trainer/protector, he decides that the girl is ‘ready’. He then brings out a great big transmitter that will alert the world to their presence. This is really the best way of doing things? Rather than just track down Marissa and quietly rub her out, you’re going to send your ‘daughter’ into the lion’s den? And is it really wise to keep a big transmitter like that lying around? Say you accidentally sat on it in the middle of the night, or Hanna found it and pressed it, or one of your wolf cubs set it off?

Hokey Moment Number Two: Erik is being tracked by government agents. They confront him in a subway station. It’s only Erik against four people. Rather than shoot him in the kneecaps with a silenced pistol or just outright shoot him in the head, they decide to take him on in hand-to-hand combat. Of course, even though these guys are well trained, he manages to kill all of them. Idiots.

On the flipside of this, I really enjoyed the flashback where we see Marissa try and assassinate Erik and Hanna’s mother. It has a weird, dreamlike quality to it. It also shows how inept Blanchett’s character is. She tries to stop a car with a Walther PPK! By some miracle she manages to do this and she shoots Hanna’s mum in the head. But even though it’s slightly ridiculous, it works. You get the feeling that this a woman out of her depth but ruthlessly committed to what she’s doing. There’s purpose behind it, which is the polar opposite of the scene with the grandmother.

But although Blanchett is excellent in this scene, she’s pretty lacklustre in the movie as a whole. She chews the scenery like crazy, obviously enjoying the opportunity to play the part of the wicked witch. But there’s nothing subtle about it. There’s even one bit, towards the end, where we see her scowling through the window like she’s literally the Big Bad Wolf. And her American accent is terrible.

However, one detail about Blanchett’s character that I liked: at one point we see a row of dental equipment and then we see Marissa manically cleaning her teeth. She’s cleaning them so hard that her teeth are bleeding. She’s fighting hard to keep her exterior perfect and clean while the inside of her is diseased and rotten. She must remain the fairest of them all, no matter what.

All the Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel with guns nonsense concludes with Hanna, an expert assassin, being chased through through a fairytale land by an inept Scary Witch. Really, Hanna should be able to kill her in two seconds, but this would be an anti-climax, so we have a ridiculous face-off where Hanna and Marissa shoot each other (although, to try and make things more creative, Hanna somehow shoots an arrow out of her elbow like she’s MacGuyver). The film ends with a massive whimper.

The one bright spot in this massive folly is Tom Hollander. He’s wonderfully creepy as Isaac, a German killer who has the hair and clothes (although not stature) of a deranged Ken doll. Yes the script doesn’t give his character any depth or complexity, but at least it affords Hollander the chance to show another side of himself. He’s the one positive note in a movie that rings completely hollow.

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