Spoilers, spoilers, wonderful spoilers. See the movie first, it’s worth it.
I think the practice of reviewing movies when they’re released is overrated. I prefer to review them when they’ve been out for at least a few months, or until I order the DVD off Amazon, wait ten days for firstname.lastname@example.org to send it, then lie nearly comatose on the couch for two hours at the end of a long day, watching the moving pictures through my eyelashes. I find that opens up new depths of insight that are lacking in some of your more “timely” reviews.
Anyway, we actually saw Hanna when it came out in theaters last year–I caught the trailer online and started emitting high-pitched dolphin noises, which didn’t stop until my butt was in the velveteen chair. If you don’t already know, it’s an action/thriller/coming-of-age movie about a kick-ass sixteen-year-old girl. Yeah, that’s a crowded genre, I know. It stars the unearthly Saoirse Ronan, and–in a particularly vulpine turn–Cate Blanchett. It involves guns, neck-breakings, feats of agility, the fatal underestimation of teenaged girls, and Eric Bana. Basically, it was made for me. Thanks, Joe Wright!
Here are some of the things I love about this movie:
1. It’s about a girl.
2. It’s about a girl versus a woman. Both of them are smart and ruthless and powerful. Neither of them wears skimpy outfits, or anything made of leather, or poses with their mouths open. Neither of them smiles appeasingly, or flirts, or pretends to be stupid or incompetent as part of any ruse. Neither of them is out to please the world at the expense of her own interests. Neither of them takes prisoners.
3. Again, please note: this is a narrative in which the two main characters are female. Let’s just sit for a moment and count all the movies we’ve seen that can say that. Or all the movies we’ve seen that can pass the Bechdel Test. Which this does.
4. OK, spoiler: Hanna was (unbeknownst to her) genetically manipulated to be faster, stronger, more fearless, and mentally sharper than most people. This is good for the story, because it means that she really can kick ass, can beat the snot out of soldiers and mercenaries, and it makes sense within the bounds of the narrative. It’s not just girl-power fantasy.
5. There are lots of scenes of running. I love running scenes. Run, Hanna, run!!
6. Hanna’s dad has layers–we start the movie seeing him as a monosyllabic, humorless, wax-on wax-off Eagle Scout leader. And okay, he never really gets a sense of humor. But he loves Hanna hugely, has sacrificed everything for her, and tried to protect and care for her, in his slightly autistic way. Also, when he’s pissed off he does this:
7. I think one of the sequences was filmed in the same brutalist-modern building where Aeon Flux was filmed. Beloved wife tells me it’s a crematorium in Berlin. Just FYI.
8. There is no obligatory heterosexual romance. Hanna’s on the run, racing to meet her father in a world she’s never seen before. She’s too busy dodging thugs and figuring out remote controls to fall in love. She does get dragged on a double-date by her impromptu friend, Sophie, and she seems intrigued by her hilarious earring-wearing French swain. But he drops out of the picture right away, and it’s clear that the real relationship is between Hanna and Sophie. (It’s Sophie who gets Hanna’s first kiss.)
9. Sophie is awesome. She’s at that awkward age: hateful to her parents, full of bravado, petulant, impatient, sweet and curious and totally terrified when she stumbles into a fight scene in which Hanna kicks the living shit out of a couple of skinheads. She literally saves Hanna’s life, by befriending her in the middle of nowhere.
10. Hanna kicks the living shit out of a couple of skinheads.
11. Marissa Wiegler, the villain of the film, isn’t made of stone. She’s done horrible things and she aims to do more, and when she’s in control she’s pretty despicable. But when she’s out of her comfort zone–nerving herself up to shoot at Erik Heller’s car in the flashback scenes, or trapped in a shootout with him in the present day–she sweats and freezes like anyone else. She’s the big bad wolf in the fairy tale, but we also get to see her obsessively cleaning her teeth until her gums bleed. Layers.
13. Beautiful cinematography. Beautiful lighting, charismatic actors, interesting sets, good wardrobe. It’s a lovely, rich movie to watch.
14. The locations–Germany, Morocco, Finland–etc. are all pretty much genuine. The creepy amusement park finale was filmed in an actual (creepy) European amusement park. The Finnish scenes were filmed in subzero Finland. Hopefully, no actual reindeer were harmed in the filming.
15. Oh my God, I just found out that the super-creepy thug named Isaacs, who pursues Hanna for Marissa Wiegler, is Tom Hollander. Tom Hollander? Played hapless MP Simon Foster in In the Loop. I mean, look at this insanity:
16. None of these folks (except Bana, I guess) are known for making action movies, and there isn’t a huge demand for character-based, stylish, internationally-set action flicks starring teenage girls with dreadlocks and superpowers. So this movie must have been a risk. But it made money, according to its Wikipedia entry, which means enough people saw that setup and liked it enough to pay twenty bucks for it.
That’s hopeful, I think. For those of us who like a little variety in our action fare, for those of us who’d like to chip away at the marketing stereotypes, maybe just make a few little scratches in the notion that all the ladies must wear tank tops in their supporting roles. It’s not impossible, apparently. Yay?