Hollywood filmmaking, closely examined, is a line of fads and trends that become popular because of one groundbreaking achievement in film and are then copied a million times over hoping to capitalize on whatever the theme, style or technique newly formed may be. Now, some of them, such as Citizen Kane’s near perfect implementation of the idea of depth of focus, or Bonnie and Clyde’s innovations with the jump-cut, even The Matrix’s groundbreaking features of multiple camera shots in sequence can live on to be trends that will forever be loved by movie-goers and filmmakers alike. Other trends, specifically genre trends, are ones which are extremely hard to tolerate, even for the most undemanding of viewers. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator’s enormous success as a historical epic where, regardless of geographic location, everyone has a British accent, is something copied several times with Troy, King Arthur, and even Scott’s own Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, none of these subsequent Hollywood attempts came even close to recreating the magic of Gladiator. With the success of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter came a slew of children and teen centric high fantasy dramas including The Golden Compass, Bridge to Terabithia, The Chronicles of Narnia and possibly most embarassing, Stardust. Then we have the dreadful vampire craze that has hit America by storm and what’s worse about that is that it didn’t even start off with a successful concept… it started off with Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series which may be the best example of completely incompetent writing hitting mainstream fame, and you can bet the movies were no better.
Saorise Ronan is a young killing prodigy in Joe Wright’s ‘Hanna’
So, with this prologue, I come to talking about one of the latest additions of a crazed genre taken wildly out of it’s own intended proportions… that is, the crime thriller. Double agents, human killing machines and unbelievably clever protagonists who culminate in 2 hours of rapid editing that would make even Sergei Eisenstein have a seizure. The trend started with The Bourne Identity and found itself being re-created into many unsuccessful attempts, and also invading three different already established franchises (Mission Impossible, James Bond and Batman). Now, while many of these films were rather well put together and intelligently conceived, there were some which really missed the mark.
Joe Wright’s Hanna is one of these unfortunate casualties. The film starts out rather strong in the middle of tundra as a young girl named Hanna played by Saorise Ronan, aided by her father (played by Eric Bana), develops inhuman skills of combat. We begin to understand that she is some sort of prodigy. This premise is perfectly built up, tense and gutting and while they remain in the cold depths of isolation, we inch towards the edge of our seats waiting to see Hanna jump into full badass mode. Unfortunately, this is where it all goes downhill. For a filmmaker like Joe Wright, whose career has been littered with less than stellar servings of over-stylized, emotionally misguided Oscar-bait, it’s no wonder he could not connect Hanna with the audience on a human level. The uncontrollable ice-cold nature of the main characters in the movie does no good beyond the limits of the action and chase sequences. This may have worked well for a film with political undertones, but at it’s bare bones, it is a drama about a family ruined, scarred and forever lost. Yes, we have an inherent anger towards Cate Blanchette’s Marissa, but that is simply a pre-condition to her evil doings and betrayals towards Hanna and her father… it is human emotion evoked at it’s simplest and most effortless level, but it goes rather unnoticed. In contrast, what really brings a film like The Bourn Ultimatum, for example, to a higher level, is the way Paul Greengrass turns his protagonists situation into a study of self-realization. Jason Bourne’s need to understand himself is repeatedly arrived at time and again, and gives him a uniquely human trait, as we are the only species who question our situations and existence beyond mere instinct. He acts based on information he knows, but he constantly tries to understand the meaning behind his actions.
Aside from some serene photography and lighting, the movie rings hollow
Hanna on the other hand, acts only on instinct and the idea of understanding the deeper implications about her life with her father and connection to Marissa is never even brought about. The film thus, turns into a meaningless cat and mouse chase across several countries just to see who kills who first; who dies and who survives, a question which we know the answer to before the movie even gets past it’s half-way point. This is even more off putting due to Wright’s uncompromising shifts in tone from revenge thriller to chick-flick. Scenes of Hanna and a rowdy and sexually curious young British girl on a trip with her family bring the movie at a queasy and unnecessary juncture, giving comedic and worse, romantic relief that turns up to be cheesy, insulting and uninspired. This of course manages to eat up a good thirty minutes of time off the clock and is a solid example of Wright’s incapability to maintain focus within a film that has the potential to be astounding (we already saw this with Atonement and The Soloist). The movie plays from then onward like an overlong episode of ‘Burn Notice’ compiling together the usual final chase scene and forced closure on the character’s intentions and a final plea by the antagonist to forgive and forget. At this point, we give into a cathartic final shot of Hanna pointing her gun at the camera and shooting out a teeth cringing one liner which she repeated right at the beginning of the film. All I could do was roll my eyes and shake my head. “I just missed your heart” says Hanna before the bullet shot rings loud to the ending credits… yes, but Joe Wright completely missed yours Hanna, he didn’t even bother to aim.