‘Atonement’ director, young star reunite
This feature seems an odd choice for director Joe Wright. His previous films have been lush period pieces such as “Atonement” and “Pride and Prejudice.” This modern day thriller about a teenage assassin seems a stretch, but Wright brings a fresh perspective to the genre and proves he can step outside his comfort zone.
We meet Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) in the frozen wilderness of northern Finland as she stealthily tracks a huge elk and brings it down with a bow and arrow. Her proud papa, Erik (Eric Bana), has raised her in this remote location and taught her all the survival skills an ex-CIA agent would know, because that is what he is.
At age 16, she is focused, driven, speaks at least five languages, can kill someone with her bare hands and is strangely unemotional. Now she tells her father she is ready, but for what? Turns out this lifelong mission she’s been training for involves someone known to her father, a CIA agent named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). She is going to get close enough to her to kill her and then meet her father in Berlin. But the plan goes awry, leaving Hanna on the run from Marissa and her operatives, who want the girl and her father dead.
The screenplay, written by Seth Lockhead and David Farr, moves the action across the globe from Finland to the Moroccan desert and to the appointed meeting place, Berlin, while cleverly evoking themes from the only book besides an encyclopedia that Hanna has grown up with, Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
In Morocco, she meets up with a British family on holiday and rambles along with them as she dodges Marissa’s henchmen, led by actor Tom Hollander (a frequent Wright collaborator cast completely against type here and relishing it). It’s her only taste of ordinary family life, and she grows close to the precocious daughter (Jessica Barden) and her free spirited mother (Olivia Williams).
The abrupt conclusion takes place at an eerie location, an abandoned theme park, as the parties converge for a final showdown and the truth is revealed about Hannah’s conception and her true purpose. But it seems truncated and self evident by the time it arrives.
Otherwise, Wright puts together some innovative action shots with Ronan (who puts in more running than a marathoner), particularly one sequence filmed across shipping containers. The action is brutal and close up, reminiscent of the Bourne films. For that matter, Hanna could be a little Jason Bourne herself, with her stony demeanor and mad assassin skills.
Blanchett is comically evil in her flaming red wig and her soft southern accent that drips with honeyed venom. She’s as stone cold as one would have to be to order the murder of a young girl. And while it’s a fun part, it simply isn’t challenging enough for her.
The funky Chemical Brothers score works for the most part, but is annoying at times. As a departure from the kind of film Wright has built his career on, this could be worse. It is fresh, but lacks that frisson of intrigue and menace that would give it some depth.