#WomeninAction Retrospective Review: Hanna

Year: 2011
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander 

By Nicole Ackman

Action films aren’t exactly what you think of when you hear director Joe Wright or actress Saoirse Ronan’s names. They probably conjure thoughts of period dramas, like the 2007 “Atonement” that they worked on together. And yet, in 2011, Wright directed Ronan in “Hanna,” an action film that has been compared to the Bourne movies, and did remarkably good job. 

Young teenager Hanna (Ronan) has lived for as long as she can remember in a cabin in the woods in Europe with her ex-CIA operative father Erik (Eric Bana). He is training her in combat, target shooting, languages, and the false identity they’ve created for her. Her task is to assassinate an older coworker of her father’s named Marissa (Cate Blanchett), but we soon learn that Erik hasn’t been entirely truthful with his daughter about her origins. The script, written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, takes some zany twists and turns leading Hanna on a path across many countries. 

Ronan was in her early teens when she filmed “Hanna,” but her performance lives up to the stellar standard that we have come to expect from her. Hanna is a fascinating character because despite her violent abilities, she’s actually very innocent and naive in the ways of the world. Ronan has a quiet intensity as she portrays a girl experiencing being out in society for the first time and unsure how to fit in with other people. It’s fantastic to see her hold her own in fight scenes against grown men despite being an unlikely action star, but her emotional scenes are equally great. Blanchett gives a solid performance as the agent Marissa, even if her Southern accent wavers and it’s unclear if it’s on purpose or not. 

There are a variety of action scenes in “Hanna” ranging from the opening scene in which Hanna is hunting to hand to hand combat scenes. The movie features a lot of violence, but not much gore which makes it accessible to more audiences. The fight scenes don’t all look the same and the chase sequences are particularly well done. Wright utilizes camera techniques like spins to help show how disorienting the chase scenes are for the characters. The prison escape scene is particularly fantastic, especially in its stylization. 

“Perhaps “Hanna” is a good film because the action is part of the narrative rather than the narrative being a part of the action. At its heart, it’s a beautiful coming-of-age film.”

What sets “Hanna” aside from other action films is how it is centered around women and how respectful it is of its female characters. Though it’s directed and written by men, its female characters are fleshed out and never oversexualized. Hanna is presented very much as a child, both in the filming and the costuming. In fact, “Hanna” is almost more of a coming-of-age film than a traditional action movie. Hanna ends up befriending a precocious teenage girl played by Jessica Barden and the scenes between the two are highlights. (There’s even a scene where the two of them talk under the covers that is reminiscent of Wright’s 2005 “Pride and Prejudice.) 

The design of the film is also stunning from the perfectly suited soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers to the interesting use of lighting. The production design is great; the cabin in the woods and the CIA holding cell are highlights. The contrast between Hanna’s rustic cabin and Marissa’s sleek urban apartment towards the beginning of the film does a great job of setting up the theme of how little Hanna knows of modern society. There are also beautiful moments within nature as well and the way that Wright frames his shots is lovely. There are a lot of stylistic camera choices made from spinning shots to dutch angles, but they’re integrated in well and never veer into being distracting. 

Perhaps “Hanna” is a good film because the action is part of the narrative rather than the narrative being a part of the action. At its heart, it’s a beautiful coming-of-age film as a girl deals with a difficult mission and learns that her father is not everything he says he is with (very well-made) action sequences sprinkled through. As you might expect from Wright, the film is more sentimental than it might have been from another director but that helps make it an action film that might appeal to those who don’t typically like them. If you’re a fan of Ronan’s work or simply like a good plot-driven action film with a compelling female lead, then “Hanna” is worth a watch.

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