"Hanna's" Director Struggles Adjusting 'Periiod Drama' Background to Present Day Action Thrills

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Scene from "Hanna"
Scene from "Hanna"

RICHMOND, VA (HNN) - Joe Wright’s “Hanna” is being described as a first class action-thriller, and from the trailers, this is exactly what the film looked like it would be. Imagine my disappointment at discovering it’s practically nothing like in the trailer or anything like critics have been describing. For a film that is supposed to be a thriller, the thrills are few and far in between. What “Hanna” really ends up being is a missed opportunity.

Starting out somewhere in the Arctic Circle, we meet Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father, Erik (Eric Bana), a former CIA agent. For the last several years, he has been training her in several areas including martial arts, hunting, history, and languages for she knows nothing of the outside world. One day, in cryptic fashion, he presents her with a small tracking device that, when activated, will draw their enemies near. Their enemies include Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik’s former handler at the CIA.

Hanna eventually activates the device, setting in motion a series of carefully coordinated events that is supposed to include meeting her father in Berlin, but things don’t go according to plan as she has to escape CIA custody and eventually becomes acquainted with a family touring Morocco. Hanna and her father end up being trailed every step of the way as they do everything they can to get back to each other.

So what exactly went wrong with “Hanna” besides false advertising? Well, it’s not entirely false. There are a small handful of thrilling scenes including Hanna’s escape from a CIA holding facility that basically looks like a maze of wind tunnels with a DNA research room attached. However, this is the most excitement the movie ends up having in store as the other thrilling scenes are your standard “beat up the bad guys” scenes.

The first act is a bit unusual. It throws you right in the middle of Erik and Hanna in the Arctic Circle without explaining much, which is fine. Mystery often brings great excitement to films like this. However, after Hanna’s daring escape from the facility, the film slows way, way down to the point where you begin to wonder what the writers were trying to accomplish in the interlude.

It’s here in the bizarre, sedated second act where Hanna wanders around Morocco, getting used to being in the outside world. This includes a scene where she is stunned to see electronic devices for the first time such as a light, a tea kettle, and a television. Later on, she meets a strange family that takes her in on their travels where she becomes good friends with a young girl named Sophie (Jessica Barden).

During this act, we get small glimpses of what her father is up to, which looks infinitely more fascinating that what Hanna is doing. After this act goes on for awhile, you start to notice that nothing has advanced the plot for at least a good 45 minutes. It basically becomes a wait for the movie to finally pick itself back up and get back into the story it had set up all those minutes ago.

What barely ends up keeping the film on its feet at this point is the mystery that was presented near the beginning of the film. What is so special about Hanna and Erik? Why does Marissa want to find them so badly? What happened to Hanna’s mother? These are all somewhat interesting questions which are subtly explained throughout, but then at the end, just in case some members of the audience couldn’t figure it out, there’s a scene right out of an old mystery film where we have the whole thing explained to us. It’s a rather patronizing scene, but I guess the writers didn’t want anyone left behind.

This is Wright’s first go at an “action-thriller.” He’s more well-known for period pieces like the excellent “Atonement” or his well-done adaptation of Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice.” His affinity for slower, more dramatic movies creeps its way into his latest effort, where it’s welcome in part, but not when it starts running what’s supposed to be a more upbeat film. This is the kind of film that should have had the audience on the edge of their seats, wondering what could possibly happen to a young woman truly seeing the world for the first time, but instead it leaves the audience wondering why the filmmakers felt the need to stall for so long in the second, and even some of the third, act before finally bringing the film around to a conclusion. This could have been much more than what it turned out to be. A missed opportunity indeed. 2/4 stars.