From Pride and Prejudice to Atonement through The Soloist and now this, director Joe Wright's sharp rise to recognition has been a joy to follow. However Hanna marks a major departure for the inextricably literary British filmmaker: from adaptations of the work of Jane Austen and Ian McEwan to this strung-out acid trip of a fairy tale, this latest sees Wright reunited with the stunning young actress he helped bring to prominence only a few years ago, namely rising Irish star Saiorse Ronan, who single-handedly saved Peter Jackson's divisive adaptation of The Lovely Bones from a fate far worse than failure.
The pairing seems to bring out the best in both Wright and Ronan, for though Hanna has its faults - sometimes the disorientation overreaches, and Cate Blanchett's hell-bent CIA agent is a touch too much - nevertheless it should stand as an example of the most aspirational sort to those directors who think the thriller a vehicle for cacophonous action, and mystery and intrigue somehow equal to obfuscation. Here Wright brings his elegant flair to bear on a cracking script featured on the Black List - an annual run-down of the best screenplays in and around Hollywood - not once but twice; in 2006, then again in 2009. Two years on, Hanna has been made at last, and how.
Saiorse Ronan - the eyes of Atonement - is Hanna, a perpetually startled, rabbit-caught-in-headlights kind of girl, and with good reason. Raised in the forest by her father (Eric Bana), and taught to be the perfect assassin, at the outset of Hanna the student finally bests her master - who promptly cuts all ties. Not out of spite, you understand, but because Hanna is finally ready for the confrontation her whole life has been spent in preparation for. And the road before her is one she must walk alone... or not walk at all.
Thus, from out of the forest Hanna comes, to face off against Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a CIA sort who for some undisclosed reason will stop at nothing to see Hanna and her father stopped - permanently. So begins the hunt - a battle of wills foreshadowed in the film's wonderful, winterswept opening moments - and this once, Hanna is not the hunter, but the prey.
Hanna has all the beats and features of an action film, and as an action film, it could very well be the year's best - just the one single-take sequence in the subway (you'll know it when you see it) is enough to put most such movies to shame - but Wright is at least as interested in Hanna's discovery of the world beyond the forest's fringes than in her mad assassin skillz. And credit to him, Hanna is as a narrative not at all overwhelmed by his experiential interests - though as to the girl herself... well. That's a different story.
Different folks will find in Hanna different strokes to adore. For some, the central conflict will seem a cracked yet crystalline thing, no more complex and no less satisfying than: Hanna versus Marissa, round one, fight! Others will gravitate more towards the discomfiting question of Hanna the assassin as opposed to Hanna the person, and Wright wrings much of note from this innocent's grim rite of passage. Hanna's encounter with an American family on holiday, dominated by Dollhouse's Olivia Williams as a new-age matriarch, proves hugely significant: through them she comes into her own, finds that there is more to life than the hunt. There is friendship too, and pleasure, and romance.
And music. "A combination of sounds with a view to beautiform an expression of emotion," as Hanna's father Erik explains early on. Well, exactly. Truly, it would not do to close out this review without taking a moment to applaud The Chemical Brothers for their tremendous soundtrack - their first such; one can only hope not their last. The Chemical Brothers' score is a hypnotic thing, rapturous one moment and haunting the next. It both enriches and embellishes the corrupted beauty that is Hanna's stock in trade, pitch-perfectly capturing the juxtaposition of the scruffy and the elegant which sounds like a beacon throughout the film.
Hanna is a revelatory piece of work from virtually all involved, sprung from Grimm's Fairy Tales via the Eastern Bloc rather than Wright's usual rural England preserves, and though I would not expect it to contribute a single silver dollar to the slew of awards and nominations Joe Wright has behind him, courtesy Jane Austen and Atonement, I couldn't be happier than to see this filmmaker indulge in something a little less literary. And something a damn sight more entertaining for that academic lack.