“I just missed your heart,” says the little blond girl before shooting her prey, an elk nearly twice her size. The abrupt shot triggers the screen to turn blood red — save the word “Hanna” written across it in a child-like font. This juxtaposition of innocence and startling violence perfectly represents all of the things that make Joe Wright’s (“Atonement”) new thriller so downright cool.
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Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, “The Lovely Bones”), the girl in question, is a killer on the run from terrifying government agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). After being raised and trained in the Arctic wilderness by her father, Erik (Eric Bana, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”), Hanna must outrun Marissa and kill everyone that stands in her way in order to rejoin her father in Berlin. Entirely out of her element in the real world, Hanna’s choice is simple: adapt or die.
While this may sound intriguing, it’s not actually the plot of “Hanna” that makes the film so worthwhile. In fact, the predictable storyline and unsurprising twists may be the film’s weakest points. When the mysteries surrounding Hanna’s origin are explained, viewers are left thinking: “Really? That’s it?” Rather, the film’s true strength lies in its direction. Wright takes a fairly basic narrative and makes it both suspenseful and thought provoking.
One way in which Wright does this is through the soundtrack, exclusively scored by the Chemical Brothers. The heavy, pulsing beats give life to the standard chase scenes and fight montages. One sweet lullaby communicates the rarity of friendship in Hanna’s brief moment with Sophie — a spoiled American teenager (newcomer Jessica Barden) — in their tent. The film’s creepiest character, one of Marissa’s henchmen, is made terrifying not by his actions or words (and certainly not by his tracksuits), but rather by the carnival tune that plays whenever he is near — evoking creepy images of clowns and certain pedophilia.
Though the seemingly never-ending chase scenes are saved by the music and do keep viewers on the edge of their seats, it is the forced adjustment into the foreign worlds of Hanna’s travels that make the film interesting — providing comic relief in her inability to work modern technology and tenderness in her discovery of humanity. Both are found in the one friend Hanna is able to make, Sophie, who provides limitless one-liners while simultaneously reminding the viewer of the normality that Hanna has been so brutally deprived of for unknown reasons.
Wright makes expert use of minimalistic cinematography to capture this journey of Hanna’s into the real world. Spinning cameras and shadows convey her disorientation, while the sharp angle changes evoke the instinctual level on which her mind functions. Audience members will feel as though they are right there with Hanna, fighting alongside her in a confusing battle for freedom and understanding. Rather than relying on the lackluster writing to tell viewers what they need to know, Wright uses these elements of subtlety to show them instead.
This minimalistic approach seen in the camerawork can be applied to the movie as a whole, where the fantastically simple story of a teenage girl has been used to tackle issues as large — and possibly as real — as the price of childhood and the costs of playing God.