While many folks can hum the tune that is the ballad of the distant father, until your pops assaults you while you’re disemboweling the reindeer you murdered because he told you to, it’s best not to sing your personal song of woe to Hanna (Saorise Ronan). Because she may stab you in the eye hole.
Dressed in the trappings of spy games and science fiction — spy-ence fiction, if you will — director Joe Wright and writers Seth Lochhead and David Farr aren’t coy with their intended allegory. Forgoing another simple retread of Joseph Campbell’s thousand-faced hero, Hanna is a modern pop-culture Grimm’s fairy tale. It trades red hoods and basket deliveries for 9-milimeters and throat slashing. Sporting an art-house sense of style and a relentless Chemical Brothers’ score, Hanna is more than a pleasant spring diversion: It’s the first great mainstream movie of 2011.
The brutality of our introduction to Hanna, the aforementioned Rudolph vivisection, is instantly contrasted by a projection of sweet naivete from Ronan. Her piercing blue eyes cut you as violently as the multiple knives she wields but also convey a genuine childlike softness. The first suggestion of the film’s brilliant pacing comes when the scope of Hanna’s entire upbringing is laid bare in the space of a single day. As her burly beard-endowed father, Erik (Eric Bana), spars with her without restraint and demands her recitation of a half-dozen languages, it becomes obvious that she’s separated from normal tween life by more than the lack of a Bieber obsession and cell phone dexterity.
Genetically bred to be a warrior by the C.I.A., again played as the relentless pricks of cinematic espionage, Hanna was stolen by the agency from Erik and sequestered in a wood shack in the arctic to train for the day she would be released from captivity. Having recently attained the false omniscience that comes with turning 16, Hanna declares herself ready and is thrust into society for the first time. Having never seen electricity or heard music, her introduction to modern living is a bit unsettling. But she has a plan … albeit one complicated by a “wicked witch.”
Said witch is Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the murderer of Hanna’s mother and overseer of the C.I.A.’s icky baby-improvement initiative. Obsessed with dental hygiene and notably undone by her Prada affinity, Marissa is to Hanna as Javier Bardem’s Anton was to Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn in No Country For Old Me n; she relentlessly stalks her pray while sporting a questionable haircut and an unbelievable accent. And so Hanna engages in a two-part journey, running for her life while coming-of-age.
Sporting countless pitch-perfect scenes — including one in which light switches mystify our young heroine and one in which a kiss is appropriately reserved for use a bit later — Hanna is as brutal in stripping its titular figure’s soul clean as it is in its infrequent but damn-thrilling action sequences. The violence-driven character sketch is a tough nut to crack, but Wright smacks it open with the blunt force of beautiful performances. Bana once more does easily forgotten but exceptional yeoman’s work, while Blanchett’s delightful villainous caricature contrasts beautifully with Ronan’s nuanced and sophisticated delivery.
One brief aside. The MPAA in their boundless hypocrisy and even-more-boundless stupidity bestowed Hanna a PG-13 rating, despite featuring such treats as a corpse suspended by its ankles. So if you’re keeping track at home: F-bombs scored The King’s Speech an R, but filleting human flesh is still appropriate for the training-bra set. But this isn’t about damning the MPAA; it’s about praising a deftly fearless, breathlessly paced, beautiful modern fable with as much bite as bark. No shock given the subject matter, on a list of this year’s best so far, Hanna is number one with a bullet.
Grade = A