The Bored Identity
by Glenn Lovell
“Hanna,” which pits a wispy Saoirse Ronan against a witch-y Cate Blanchett, is the kind of deliberately stylish espionage yarn that Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles might have agreed upon, had they been predisposed to such foolishness.
At times, thanks to the harsh landscape and baroque production design, this concoction feels like “The Virgin Spring” meets “Lady from Shanghai.”
Add to this an albino-pale Ninja who has been genetically engineered in a secret government experiment (are there any other kind?) and you’ve got an arty twist on “The Boys from Brazil,” the Ira Levin bestseller about a conspiracy to clone little blond-eyed, blue-haired Fuhrers.
The question now is: Will the Bourne again target audience sit still for a postmodern thriller with over-choreographed slow-mo action, or will it duck out as soon as the pace slackens and British director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) turns to dance interludes and Brothers Grimm allusions?
Personally, I enjoyed some of the surface gloss while wishing Wright would speed things up. Definitely hurting this film is the PG-13 rating, which makes the frequent explosions of violence ‒ the film’s raison d’etre, after all ‒ both confusing and ineffectual. Wright the artist trumps Wright the storyteller; his crime scenes are often rendered as carefully composed tableaux.
Hanna (Ronan) lives with her father, Erik Haller (Eric Bana), under a peculiar form of house arrest, somewhere in the frozen north. He’s a rogue government agent who imparts his Nietzschean philosophy of “Adapt or die” to his daughter in survivalist lessons. These exercises are supposed to show how serious the old man is and how deadly his prize pupil has become. They come off as almost comical, a game of “Gotcha!” as played by Inspector Clouseau and Cato.
All good things must come to an end. At 16, having mastered a dozen languages and the coordinates for a Berlin rendezvous, the camouflaged wood sprite announces she’s ready to forgo her Hansel and Gretel existence. To accomplish this, she presses a red button that alerts the evil Marissa Viegler (Blanchett) that her long-ago experiment is ready to come in out of the cold. Stormtroopers soon come a-knocking.
This opening section, which goes on way too long, is followed by a botched interrogation and Hanna’s escape from a subterranean lab, which we eventually discover is located in the Moroccan desert. Here, Hanna hitches a ride with a family of British tourists and is befriended by a charming motormouth (Jessica Barden, who steals her every scene). In pursuit, along with the vaguely motivated Viegler, is a bleached blond assassin (Tom Hollander) who favors white track suits. He speech is peppered with fairy-tale references: “Run, Little Piggy!”
Ronan, who earned an Oscar nomination for telling a devastating lie in “Atonement,” has here been made to look like a creature out of a Botticelli, or the Finnish hinterlands. Her wild child is so washed-out, she can sneak up on a caribou in the snow. Unfortunately, the bland look has resulted in a rather bland performance. Blanchett’s government agent who has a vested interest in retrieving the child assassin isn’t quite as outrageously nasty as the actress’s Russkie officer in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” but this isn’t for lack of trying. Viegler needed to be as charming as she is ruthless, not some cartoonish Natasha Fatale. Bana, whose Scandinavian accent comes and goes, just seems bored.
The best moments in “Hanna” are seriocomic, such as the girl’s crash course in electrical conveniences and Barden’s spiel about lesbian rock stars. The music is by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, a.k.a. The Chemical Brothers. They fuse pulsating electronics with a hand-cranked Jack in the Box to create a new kind of film score. What’s lacking is a new kind of techno-thriller to go with it.
HANNA ✮✮1/2 Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana. Directed by Joe Wright; scripted by Seth Lochhead, David Farr. 111 min. Rated: PG-13 (for violence, profanity)