Beardface Reviews: Flashes of Genius Enough to Save Hanna?

A little known Greek philosophizer named Aristotle (you may have heard of this guy) once said that “the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.” Well, that may be the case for some works of drama, Hanna comes across as exactly the opposite… namely it’s parts are greater than the film as a whole.

Director Joe Wright is an incredibly talented filmmaker. His first two feature films are near flawless… his fresh adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (it must have been fresh because getting us to not just like but LOVE a Jane Austen adaptation is no easy feat). His second effort, Atonement, is stunning in every way (especially the five minute sequence shot on the beach) and earned Wright a lot of critical acclaim and awards nominations. Even his lackluster third effort, The Soloist, still had one what might call ‘flashes of genius’ amidst the otherwise muddled film.

Hanna, although a vast improvement on The Soloist, unfortunately falls into the latter category as a flawed work that only features shots, sequences and scenes of brilliance while lacking a narrative pulse or hook. Again, this is not to say that this isn’t a well-made film, in fact it’s an expertly crafted piece of work BUT that doesn’t mean it will ‘work’ as a whole. Yes, that is a very open-ended and vague way to describe a film’s faults but that’s just it, we’re not really sure why the film doesn’t ‘work’… it just doesn’t.

Now on to those parts that were so great… Saoirse Ronan once again shines (is there nothing this girl can’t do?) as the titular tween assassin on the run from her past. Her performance is fierce, focused and yet also quite vulnerable at times presenting us with the only character in the film worth ‘caring’ about (even if the aesthetic distance makes it hard to invest at all… more on that to come). Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are fine, like always, but neither is really given much of a character to work with… where the excellent Tom Hollander (watch In the Loop) has some fun as a bleach-blonde (trans/homo/bi/? sexual) killer hired to track down Hanna… love the short shorts.

The action is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film in that Jow Wright opts to shoot most ofthe scenes in extended takes with very little cutting… making Hanna play like the anti-Bourne. It’s both beautiful and interesting to watch the fight scenes unfold in single shots (or very few cut together) yet they lack the intensity and punch that the Bourne/Greengrass ‘close-up cuts’ method. Again, the aesthetic choices work wonderfully as compositions BUT in terms of cinematic storytelling and/or engaging the audience it creates a certain distance.

And sadly, this ‘emotional’ distance is only increased when The Chemical Brothers  score accompanies the images. The score, as an album, is amazing. We couldn’t be happier listening to the tracklist on our iPod but there are several instances IN THE FILM where the music completely took us out of the action (although we do like the homage to Fritz Lang’s M as Hollander’s killer whistles his way around the various locales… all of which are gorgeously shot).

Lastly, the use of sound may prove to be the most interesting aspect of the film in retrospect as Wright uses it to an almost Bressonian effect… music is directly discussed throughout the film and closely lined to the idea of Hanna’s escape into normality and appreciating the simple joys like music (in hiding she gets a verbal description of music from her father before witnessing it’s full aural splendor while the family rejoices in their trailer).

As you can see, this film is interesting enough to provoke a lot of thoughts but the actual viewing experience still lacked a certain cohesion, a narrative thrust or an emotional hook to ensure that it’s more than just an exercise in filmmaking… Perhaps the bookends summarize the film quite nicely, “I just missed your heart.”

Hanna Trailer…

Official Synopsis: “Raised by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of Finland, Hanna’s upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. The turning point in her adolescence is a sharp one; sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own (Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett). As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) faces startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.”

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2 responses to “Beardface Reviews: Flashes of Genius Enough to Save Hanna?

  1. I’d say you nailed it ‘Oh Bearded One.’ Everyone and their mother (myself included) says that there is just… something (?)… missing. That something? It’s like The Big Bang or something, as nobody knows. Spooky, no?

  2. I would disagree slightly and say that the film works as a whole. My issue is that its parts, or sequences, are inconsistent, and are therefore easy to detach from one another. Many are memorable, and some are unfortunately memorable for the wrong reasons. One of the reasons for this is Wright’s inability to find a happy medium in the literalness of his images. An example of this can be seen in the film’s conclusion in which Marissa (Cate Blanchett) walks through a carnival tunnel that is framed by the Big Bad Wolf’s menacing mouth. If some of Wright’s overly literal images are memorable for the wrong reasons then the film’s villains are memorable for the right reasons. To agree with Carpie, Isaacs (Tom Hollindsworth) is fantastically creepy in a very 80s way, especially his sinister whistling. Many great villains are associated with an unforgettable tune. Think Hans Beckart in M, Darth Vader in Star Wars, and the Shark in Jaws. Such great villains are hard to come by these days, and Wright’s film arguably has two. For that alone Hanna gets my approval.

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