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‘Hanna’ is a heart-pounding thrill ride

POSTED: April 21, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Focus Features

Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character in "Hanna." The film is a fantastic ride full of both action and heart and supported by an all-star cast.

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"Hanna" is the sort of movie that leaves an impression. That much I expected from a movie about a teenage girl assassin.

I didn’t know, though, that the movie would be just as powerful between the action sequences as when the bullets and fists are flying.

Sixteen-year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been raised in a remote wilderness by her father, Erik (Eric Bana). He has kept her away from the civilized world in order to train her as an assassin.

Hanna’s life has been one long conditioning program designed to prepare her to kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the CIA agent who killed Hanna’s mother.

But this is no run-of-the-mill revenge flick.

By the time we meet Hanna, she is able to take down a moose with a crude bow and arrow, field dress the carcass, then drag the huge beast back to the cabin. She and Erik spar to keep her sharp and their battles make Cato’s attacks on Britt Reid look like love pats.

Ready to carry out her mission and tired of being deprived of a life of her own choosing, Hanna soon initiates the revenge plan. Erik leaves the cabin while Hanna stays behind, allowing herself to be captured by a covert ops team in order to get close to Marissa.

She then escapes from the military detention facility in a dazzling, instantly classic sequence. Hanna is then pursued by a Nazi-hired killer named Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his two skinhead henchmen (it isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds).

Hanna hitches a ride with a hippy family travelling the countryside, and for a long time the movie focuses on her first encounters with modern civilization, family life and boys.

Remove the violence, and "Hanna" would stand on its own as a coming of age road trip.

However, an action movie it is, and a damned good one at that. On the way toward the inevitable climactic showdown, the movie reveals genetic secrets about Hanna that change her identity forever.

In movie terms, though, Hanna’s genealogy is clear. She is the granddaughter of Nikita from Luc Besson’s "La Femme Nikita." She is the daughter of Evelyn Salt, although "Hanna" is much better than "Salt." And she is first cousins with Hit Girl from "Kick-Ass."

Regardless of heritage, she is an enthralling character, thanks to director Joe Wright and Saoirse Ronan.

Ronan continues to tackle risky roles for an actress her age (she recently turned 17). She caught the world’s attention in "Atonement" then battled an awful script and impossible expectations in "The Lovely Bones."

Here, she manages to sell the idea that a waifish 16-year old could be one of the most skilled assassins in recent cinematic history, but then shifts into naive innocent mode as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Ronan has a special on-screen presence to say the least.

Not that she carries all the weight on her slight shoulders. The entire cast and crew elevate "Hanna" above her action movie brethren.

Bana turns in another understated, pitch perfect action role. Hollander practically oozes creep and smarm. Blanchett doesn’t nail the Texas accent, but she plays her character as simultaneously fearful, hateful and proud of Hanna.

Wright understands dramatic dynamics, so the movie shifts effortlessly among quiet and lovely, tense and menacing, and spectacular violence.

Wright also knows that the most interesting elements of his story have nothing to do with violence directly. Hanna is experiencing human contact and social chaos for the first time. As she rides along with the bohemian family (parented by the excellent Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng), Wright catches all of Hanna’s longing glances at the mother and her attempts to absorb every minute gesture as the family relate to each other.

Throw in a killer Chemical Brothers musical score, and "Hanna" is one of the coolest movies of the year.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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