Sometimes a gritty, unpolished, and decidedly European-style thriller is exactly what you’re looking for.
In the world of spycraft, someone is always trying to build a better assassin: smarter, deadlier, and above all, obedient to a fault. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has trained all her life for “the mission” by her father Erik (Eric Bana). Knowing her own capabilities and being her own worst critic, Erik leaves it up to Hanna when to decide she’s ready, indicated by literally flipping a switch. Once the decision is made, Hanna’s life will change forever and there’s no turning back, but how much of her stolen childhood will she realize is missing once her father is out of the picture? A covert operative named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) holds many of the answers, but to keep Marissa’s skeletons in the closet, both Hanna and her father will need to disappear again… permanently.
European thrillers have a real-world grittiness that the spit and polish of similar American films often gloss over. Is it because Europeans are happier with the first take, or that American filmmakers prefer their world to look pristine for hi-def? Whatever the reason, that grit makes a thriller like Hanna feel very real even when it’s at its most absurd. Part of that credit goes to the cast, particularly Saoirse Ronan in the title role (if only for keeping up with Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana). While not perfect and leaving a lot of questions unanswered, it’s the kind of film that has you thinking about what you just saw, and that’s rarely a bad thing.
Eric Bana mostly plays mentor here, but Cate Blanchett is neck-deep in the espionage and intrigue. What makes her character even more fascinating to watch is that you see her imperfections and watch her overcome them. As a “bad guy,” she feels very three-dimensional and fleshed out, and it’s a rare ability to bring that out. She has the creepiest Southern accent I’ve ever heard on someone I know it isn’t native to; the sound of it feels manipulative. That’s why Saoirse Ronan’s part as Hanna had to step up, especially when these two ladies go head-to-head. You can credit Blanchett’s supporting performance for making Ronan look good, but Ronan still had to step up, and the performance is captivating. Purely from a character aspect, predicting how Hanna might react from scene to scene becomes a bit of a game, and very often she will surprise you.
At various time throughout the production, the film feels as through it has detoured into a music video both in terms of soundtrack and visuals. The most jarring of these interludes is during an escape sequence, a drop-in concert move that feels like it only exists to look cool with the inappropriately “cool” music played over the scene. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so out-of-place happening during a montage (a crutch in itself), but it’s just her running down the middle of a corridor and suddenly everything is upside down and spinning! Nah. Similar things happen a few other times, too, and yet there are other points where, instead of building on that to marry the whole thing together as a style, it happens too infrequently to qualify it. Fortunately, this is the worst thing that can be said about the film overall (even after multiple viewings). A solid story, solid acting, and a solid production; it’s hard not to love her.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)