Saturday 7 May 2011

The girl who played with firearms: "Hanna"

The tonally weird, mostly resistible Hanna is the story of two individuals on the run, the one ducking for cover, desperate to stay off the radar, the other waving their arms around and generally making like a madman to draw attention to themselves. The first would be the eponymous heroine, a teenage assassin trained by her sometime spy father (Eric Bana) to evade the Government agents, led by Cate Blanchett, who've come after the pair of them. Central to the film is the irony that, though a dab hand with a Walther PPK, Hanna is still a little girl who yearns for, if not family, then at least friends, and spends much of this two-hour fugue attempting to figure out who she really is. She could have saved some time calling in at a video shop on her travels: she's a conflation of the main characters - the killer and the latter-day Lolita - from Luc Besson's Leon, now played by Saoirse Ronan, a glassy-glacial screen presence who has herself been left casting around for work in strange places (cf. her unlikely gypsy woman in Peter Weir's The Way Back), and whose very otherness continues to get in the way of audience emotion or empathy.

The second figure on the lam is the director Joe Wright, turning his hand to another genre after the failure of his prestige effort The Soloist to take the box-office or Academy by storm two years ago. I liked Wright's Pride & Prejudice, which brought a breezy freshness to much chewed-over material, but ever since, Wright has become grown increasingly insincere and unmoored in his methods, his wildly inflated rep resting on the preposterous Atonement, a literary adaptation full of emptily grandiose gestures attempting to distract us from the trivial and risible crises at that story's heart; The Soloist, meanwhile, brought lavish, sweeping, lookie-here helicopter shots to what should have been a small, personal, street-level study of urban alienation.

Time and experience have made Wright no more reticent behind the camera. Hanna, from the off, goes for a conspicuous High Style: gratuitous close-ups of Blanchett brushing her gums into a bloody mess are Wright's way of telling us the character may be at least a little controlling and uptight, while Hanna's discovery of her own rogue DNA (via a Google search!) sparks a showy and wholly patronising duh-enn-eh montage that resembles a primer in genetic code for hyperactive remedial classes. The whole thing unfolds to an electronic (and in places, distinctly sub-Kraftwerk-y) score by The Chemical Brothers, so readers of Mixmag magazine can have themselves a little sex wee in the dark. The Teutonic aspects - it's definitely Hanna without die zweite H - suggest Wright fancies himself as another Tom Tykwer, but the film is at best Tykwer-lite, devoid of heart or soul, and badly struggling for unity or credibility.

I thought the early shot of the fragile Ronan holding onto the underside of a speeding truck might take the prize for stuff and nonsense, but that was before the interlude in which our plucky heroine veers off into a holiday romance, grafted in seemingly wholesale from Die Sisterhood von der Travelling Pantsen. The accents are all over the place - Blanchett's is particularly heinous, veering from Missouri to Munich between scenes - but then we may not be supposed to mind, for Hanna is one of those postmodern bricolages where a girl can be chased out of the German wilderness into a desert that suddenly turns into an African village with a Middle Eastern marketplace and Internet cafe adjacent. It's like a Bourne movie (or Tykwer's own, Bourne-inspired The International) with every other establishing scene cut out of it: a flashy assertion of technique that might have been described as experimental or cutting-edge, were the results not such utter bobbins.

Over-extended bobbins, too: sure, no-one was ever likely to beat Run Lola Run - which set some kind of cinematic land speed record - but there's an eternity between that film's 81 minutes and Hanna's 111. How does Wright fill this extra time? By venturing substantial proof that, after a brief flurry of cherishable activity (Funny People, The Time Traveler's Wife, Love the Beast), Bana has reverted to his default boring mode (and with a bad accent, to boot). By offering Tom Hollander (with a lazy, cliched bad Eurovillain accent) in leisurewear leering at hermaphrodites. By allowing Olivia Williams (in her own accent, but a nothing part) a non-sequitur about lipstick and the labia majora, which may end up as the title of the next PJ Harvey album. And by staging all his fight scenes in protracted slo-mo, because he evidently didn't know how to make them work at full speed - and, besides, it's another eye-catching effect.

Wright maybe took this material on because he was cooling his heels between more serious projects, or because the nerds won the culture wars and everybody's making comic-book movies these days, or possibly just to win himself a few more admirers in the 16-34 demographic. In this latter goal, he may be successful: for some reason, the powers-that-be have seen fit to bestow Hanna with a 12A rating, and again - after Kick-Ass, with its similarly glib attitude to screen violence - I feel compelled to wonder what kinds of compromising photos Universal's top brass have of BBFC officials that would facilitate one of their releases obtaining the more commercially friendly certificate. For strip away Hanna's Grimm fairytale trappings - a layer no more deep or meaningful than any other of Wright's artifices - and what you're left with is a work that needed not The Chemical Brothers, but the input (and ironic distance) of a particular Gorillaz track: a film jacking itself up on (and off to) the dubious pleasures of watching kids with guns.

Hanna is on nationwide release.

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