By Clarissa K. Wittenberg
Friday April 8, 2011

This movie takes you by the hand and then slams you down the iron tunnel. The resemblance to Alice in Wonderland is too easy and not quite right unless you considered Alice to be a horror film. If it is a fairy tale, it is true to the original dark writings. Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan, has a strong and beautiful face and a lithe body and a compelling intellect. She lives in a wintry forest in northern Finland and in the ultra-beautiful opening scenes where she blends with the snow and the trunks of birch trees, she sends a shot into the side of a great deer with an ancient rack of antlers. The dying of the beast is one of the most emotional scenes in this icy movie. As Hanna examines the animal she says, “I missed your heart,” and then she shoots him. This phrase re-sounds at the close of the film and makes clear the purpose of her life.

Hanna is a film of films with references to other films flying at you at the speed of light: Run Lola Run, Red Desert, Clockwork Orange, The Sheltering Sky, La Femme Nikita, samurai films, and, of course Jason Bourne, and James Bond and many more. Every color is heightened: the snow is whiter than white. The amusement park is stridently colored. The music by The Chemical Brothers is loud and insistent with every foot fall emphasized by a techno beat. Budda Bar music gone mad.

The plot takes this young woman from the forest to a spy prison, a red desert, to a tourist hotel in Morocco, then to a hippy caravan on the road to a ferry to Spain. On she goes to Germany for a rendezvous with her father.

The action is the real star with every group choreographed, every leap balletic, every blow producing a beautifully composed collapse. Eric Bana who plays Hanna’s father, and Saoirse Ronan, convinced me they did their own stunts, even though, of course, the stunts seem impossible. Eric Bana’s rogue spy, is beautiful and deadly as he tutors the young Hanna in self-defense and martial arts. Cate Blanchette’s character, Marissa Weigler, is a cold assassin and the brains behind the genetic engineering – reduce fear, strengthen the body–that produced the infant Hanna. Blanchette is handicapped with an awful red wig, but still shapes a robotic but interesting character.

Joe Wright has moved from Atonement, also with Saoirse Ronan, and The Soloist, to this striking, but dark original script. As is fitting, Hanna is the center of the film, a universal child, who speaks many languages perfectly and is a superb athlete. We watch her mind unfold in this film and this somehow gives us hope despite the darkness of the vision of the contemporary world. She has thirteen films to her credit, several more in production, and already threatens to rise to the ranks of a Cate Blanchette or a Tilda Swinton.

Hanna (111 minutes, at area theaters) is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language.

Clarissa K. Wittenberg was a founder and editor of the Washington Review, a journal of arts and literature that documented cultural life in Washington for over 28 years. She is currently Creative Director at the Washington Film Institute.

John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.