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Monday, March 18,2013

Wright on target

Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett play an electrifying game of cat-and-mouse in director Joe Wright's stunningly stylish 'Hanna'

by James Sanford

“I just missed your heart,” huntress Hanna (Saoirse Ronan)
says to a reindeer she’s hit with one of her arrows. Hanna doesn’t leave her
work unfinished, and neither does director Joe Wright’s electrifying “Hanna,”
which literally starts and ends with a bang.


Wright and Ronan previously
collaborated on the harrowing heartbreaker “Atonement,” in which the
enthralling young actress played a troublemaking child whose spitefulness ruins
the lives of her older sister (Keira Knightley) and her sister’s lover (James
McAvoy). “Atonement” unfolded slowly and steadily until you felt like the
unfortunate prisoner in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” powerless
to stop the inevitable, awful finale. But “Hanna” is an entirely different
experience, a helter-skelter chase movie that moves like a cheetah in the throes of a sugar
rush. Even when you don’t know where it’s going, the ride is exhilarating.


Raised in the rugged, frosty forests of Finland, Hanna is
the daughter of Erik Heller (Eric Bana), a former intelligence agent who made a
hasty exit from the world of espionage more than a decade ago and has been
living in seclusion ever since. Even so, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett),
Erik’s former boss-turned-nemesis, has not given up on tracking him down; she
also has her reasons for apprehending Hanna as well. Blanchett, whose gunmetal
gray outfits, auburn hair and sardonic smile are reminiscent of early-1980s
Annie Lennox, is both fearsome and funny here, speaking in a tone that
frequently sounds like icicles being snapped in two, then slathering on a honey-sweet
Southern accent to disarm her victims just before going in for the kill.


When Hanna emerges from hiding, Wiegler goes on the warpath.
But the ace assassin may have met her match: Years of often harsh training have
made Hanna brilliant, brutal and dexterous.


What makes “Hanna” an offbeat game of cat-and-mouse is the
sometimes bizarre assortment of extras Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochhead
and David Farr have included in the mix. Although Hanna is, as they say,
book-smart — capable of conversing in multiple languages and of robotically
reciting facts, figures and trivia about any number of topics — she is
frequently baffled by things she’s never experienced first-hand, like turning
on a light switch or using an indoor shower. The shrewd, subtle and completely
captivating Ronan doesn’t overplay these reactions, which that makes them that
much more amusing.


When Hanna must hide out with a wonderfully whacked-out
British family during her jaunt from Morocco to Spain, she is oblivious about
what constitutes “normal” behavior and conversation. “What did your mother of,
Hanna?” the father (Jason Flemyng) politely asks. “Three bullets,” Hanna calmly
replies.


Wright loves to find the musicality in everyday sounds, such as the crackle of a fluorescent light warming up, the gentle whirling of a ceiling fan and the rattle of an electric kettle. He used this technique to illustrate the discordant symphony that surrounded the schizophrenic hero (Jamie Foxx) of "The Soloist"; here, it cues us in that Hanna's senses are sharper, slightly more acute than those of anyone else around her. Some of Wright’s other stylistic touches recall the heyday
of David Lynch: a wheelchair-bound derelict in a newsstand warbles tunelessly
to no one in particular; Hanna makes her way through an abandoned amusement
park, passing broken or mutilated statues of prehistoric beasts; a killer (Tom
Hollander) with peroxided hair whistles a cheery melody as he prepares to do
horrendous deeds. Hanna is bewitched by a book of Grimms’ Fairy Tales; before
her adventure is over, she’ll have to hide out in a hallucinatory version of
the cookie cottage on which Hansel and Gretel once nibbled.


The humor and Ronan’s impressive physical feats are matched
by Wright’s command of the shockingly sleek action sequences, several of which
were filmed in one continuous take. Remember that jaw-dropping episode midway
through “Atonement” in which Wright’s camera moved through the ruins of
Dunkirk, capturing the story of the entire town in a single sweep? He uses a
similar technique here in a mind-bogglingly choreographed scene in which a
single camera follows Erik out of a Berlin train station, through the streets,
down an escalator and into a subway, where he does battle with half a dozen
would-be assassins. Cinematographer Alvin A. Kulcher is nearly always in
motion, although, remarkably, the fights and pursuits in “Hanna” never
degenerate into flashy, slapdash chaos, like the nearly unwatchable action scenes
in “Sucker Punch” and “Battle Los Angeles,” due in part to Paul Tothill’s skillful
editing.


The movie is driven by a throbbing, propulsive electronic
score by The Chemical Brothers that perfectly answers the question Hanna asks
Erik early on: “What does music feel like?” The soundtrack rocks; so does the movie it accompanies.

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