Hanna bears all the markings of a spy thriller-- the pounding score from the Chemical Brothers, the violence and globetrotting, the handful of killer catchphrases. But the film draws far more from Snow White than it does Jason Bourne, presenting a teenage girl assassin not because it's super cool (i.e. Kick Ass) or morally dubious (i.e. The Professional), but because it's a pure and modern way to tell the classical story of a girl emerging from the forest to vanquish the evil queen. Hanna is odd, scatterbrained and sometimes a little too clever, but it's also passionate and captivating, combining a coming-of-age tenderness with heart-stopping action in a way that feels utterly unique.
Director Joe Wright teams again with his Atonement star Saoirse Ronan to present a very uncommon teenager, raised in the Arctic wilderness by her father Erik (Eric Bana) to be a fierce and feral warrior. Lingering nightly on an old photograph of her dead mother (Vicky Krieps) and a tattered copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hanna has been trained seemingly for the single purpose of killing Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the CIA agent who we learn later is responsible not only for her mother's death but for key details of Hanna's existence. Erik escapes while Hanna is intentionally captured by the CIA, only to do the same, spectacularly, by fleeing from a secret government compound buried under the Moroccan desert. The escape is all energy and action, Hanna running past stark gray architecture in her organ prison jumpsuit, and a beautiful visual shift from the hushed snowy scenes of the beginning; it's only the first in long series of contrasts that make up the wandering but poetic visual spirit of the movie.
Hanna and Erik are to reunite at an abandoned Brothers Grimm theme park in Berlin, and to get there Erik must fight his way past Marissa's assassins, while Hanna stows away with a British family on holiday, developing a quick and tight bond with their teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden). In this middle section of the film we periodically revisit Erik stalking across European landscapes or Marissa terrorizing underlings and hunting Hanna down, but for the most part Hanna gets the focus, chasing after boys with Sophie, learning for the first time what a mother is thanks to Rachel (the wonderful Olivia Williams) and even gearing up for her first kiss. Dressed by Sophie for a night out in sequins and blue eyeshadow, Hanna is the mythical princess at the ball, and the previously propulsive score switches to something lighter and more innocently adventurous. The scenes between Hanna and Sophie evoke the girlish simplicity of the sisterhood glimpsed in Wright's Pride and Prejudice, and it's a wonder to see Ronan transform from the wolfish, violent Hanna to a gangly teenage girl who barely understands the world.
Tailing Hanna and this idyllic family in their RV, though, there's a fey whistling assassin (Tom Hollander) and his crew, and soon the third act kicks off with twin escape scenes, Hanna leaping acrobatically over empty shipping containers and Erik taking on a cluster of killers in a spectacular single-take fight scene in the Berlin subway. There's still room for a bit of wonder when Hanna arrives at the decrepit home of Mr. Grimm, who shows her magic tricks and plays Wagner on the record player, but the final scenes of Hanna are a jolt back to the real world, combining the now-familiar fairy tale references with brutal violence and even a touch of sci-fi. Seeing the film's many genre elements mashed up in the same scenes lays bare some of its flaws-- the narrative can feel especially rambling, the fairy tale references too overt, and the back story behind all of it is far too sketchy. But even though Seth Lochhead and David Farr's script doesn't quite know how to tie itself up, Wright and Ronan never lose sight of Hanna as the warrior princess, and her tenacity and barely disguised vulnerability steady the film through even its wildest moments.
Ronan works in perfect tandem with Wright's camera to build Hanna as our heroine, but it doesn't leave much room for other performers; Bana gets lost as the stern but blank Erik, and though Blanchett bites into Marissa's evil determination, the character seems to be more about the costuming and red wig than Blanchett's actual acting. In the performances as well as the direction and scenery, Hanna's many pleasures are generally small and precise-- a shot of Hanna leaning her head out a car window, the haunting tune whistled by Hollander's assassin, the maternal smile on Olivia Williams's face. Hanna is Joe Wright's effort at a larger, broader action film, but as in all his previous films, it's his keen eye for the details of human interaction that makes Hanna worth watching.