Not Hanna Montana by any stretch of the imagination. This is a revenge movie with a high body count much of which is inflicted by a 14 year old girl. It is not comedic or as over the top violent as Kick Ass but there is gruesomeness and disturbing material. The violence here is not played for comedic effect but rather is done in a serious tone such as that found in most conventional spy movies. This is Bourne without the shaky cam effects and a protagonist that we sympathize with even though she is a pretty vicious killer. Once we get some back story, the sympathy level increases even more.
The young actress,Saoirse Ronan, that plays our lead character is not new to films. She was nominated for her role in the movie “Atonement” a couple of years ago and was featured in “The Lovely Bones” last year. She has startling blue eyes and a young fresh face that suggests she is a beautiful woman, but still carries the expressions of a child very effectively. The opening scenes of her training in the arctic forest are very effective as is a scene set in a CIA interrogation cell. The staging of later action is not as strong. One sequence that takes place among a dock full of shipping crates is not very persuasive. Earlier she has dispatched dozens of trained soldiers but has a lot of trouble with a slightly chubby effeminate spy and his hired jack boot thugs. They should have been like butter to her, but in one of the few slip ups in story telling, they make it to a later time.
The story is strictly straightforward spy conspiracy material from the 70s. A rogue CIA operative has a unapproved action go bad. Later there are consequences that involve revenge by former allies and the product of genetic engineering. Sort of like “Three Days of the Boys From Brazil”. Hanna is unique because the victim/protagonist is a young girl. She has been well trained in many things but she is clearly not socialized for the world as it is today. She speaks dozens of languages but has little knowledge of electricity and technology. She is altered to lack fear and pity, but still has a need for attention and love that a girl her age might crave. Having been denied a Mother, she does not always have the skills needed to negotiate some basic elements of life like romance and friendship.
A few years ago, the rumor was that Eric Banna had been chosen to play James Bond in the new 007 film. We now know that was false and Daniel Craig got the nod, but it is interesting to see Banna in this part because it has many of the elements of the new Bond series. The spy is a tough and resourceful killer, capable of lying and violence in short bursts. There is a nice fight scene in a German subway station which plays like a fight from the new Bond films. Banna is very good in it and he could easily have fit the role of Bond if he had ever been cast. The Director of this movie is Joe Wright, who did “Atonement” and also our favorite around the house “Pride and Prejudice”. He has a good eye for the stark visuals of the arctic and the deserts of Morocco. There are some solid action scenes in the first half of the film, but I thought the tension went out of the movie when it relocates back to Europe. Having been set up for the ultimate face off between Hanna and the Evil Step Mother that pursues her, we get a less satisfying but still appropriate resolution.
Cate Blanchette and Tilda Swinton must be running into each other at auditions all the time. Each has spent the last five years playing emotionless bitches in hard ass high heels. Their red hair and fair skin must make them particularly appealing for these kind of tough as nails women. Olivia Williams and Jason Fleyming are in the film as a sort of short term foster family for Hanna, both of them add some personality to what is otherwise a pretty grim story. Their two kids connect with Hanna in a way that no one could have before, and that “fish out of water” type relationship made for some real drama before the vengeance plot line kicks back in.
The music from the film is very effective and there is some terrific photography of some very beautiful places in the world. The movie does not hang together as well as it should a couple hours after seeing it. While it was on, there is a lot of emotional investment in the outcome. Looking back on it, there are some logical issues in the story telling and a few shortcuts that undermine some of the drama in the story. I liked the movie a lot, but it is not much more than an effective thriller. It has little to say about the world, or the characters. This is a movie about style that depends on the hook of a young girl as a cold-hearted killing machine. That ultimately is it’s weakness, it is a little too cold hearted for an audience to identify with for long.