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Entry updated 19 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

British/German film (2011). Focus Features/Holleran Company/Sechzehnte Babelsberg Film/Neunte Babelsberg Film. Directed by Joe Wright. Written by David Farr and Seth Lochhead. Cast includes Eric Bana, Jessica Barden, Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan. 111 minutes. Colour.

Teenaged Hanna (Ronan) and Erik Heller (Bana), the man she believes to be her father, live alone in northern Finland, where he has been training her in survival and combat tactics since infancy. In their cabin, she reads and rereads a book of fairy stories by the Brothers Grimm. Erik warns her against her mother, who will try to kill her when their whereabouts are revealed; and shows her how to trigger the signal that will locate them when she feels she is ready. She soon flicks the switch. Eric disappears into the woods, promising to see her again. An elite military team arrives to take her in; she kills two of them, but the survivors assume the killer was Eric and she allows herself to be captured. Her "mother" Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett), a senior CIA agent who is in fact a kind of wicked stepmother, attempts to supervise the next step, sending in a body-double to interview the child at the heart of an Underground Labyrinth created by the government. Hanna almost immediately kills the substitute, creates havoc, escapes the maze and finds herself above ground in Moroccan badlands. She goes to ground with a lovably feckless family of tourists, where it soon becomes clear that she is in ways an enfant sauvage, sophisticated mainly as a killing machine; but she is befriended by Sophie (Barden) and manages to get to Spain, en route to Berlin, where Erik plans to rendezvous with her. Flickers of backstory make it clear that Hanna has been Genetically Engineered for enhanced abilities, and that she is the only survivor of a cancelled experiment designed to create a superior Weapon, rather like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity (2002) and sequels (see Robert Ludlum; Bourne Films). Erik has rescued her from death as an infant, but is not her father. Harried by Marissa and her hired mercenaries (who leave an implausible trail of death behind them), Hanna reaches Berlin, where the action (if not the argument) intensifies; Erik is killed by Marissa; and finally, coming into her full growth, in a bookend scene mirroring her initial killing of a reindeer, Hanna kills Marissa.

The acting is about as competent as needed on voyage, except for Cate Blanchett who is supernaturally chilling. There is more than one film here, imperfectly but at times very impressively married. The action sequences, almost always ending in a death or two, match but do not excel their numerous twenty-first century models; but scene after scene is enriched, perhaps only for a saving second or two, by an icily insistent focus on the bleak bricolage of the contemporary urban world, as seemingly impassive and "extraneous" as a mortuary still-life by David Lynch: it is as though Hanna were set at some point after a great Disaster nobody remembers. As a whole the film has as well some of the uncanny-valley clarity and fabulistic narrative structuring of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003-2004). There seems to be no single fairy tale underlying the story that might make Hanna describable as Twice-Told [for Grimm Brothers, David Lynch, Twice-Told and Underliers see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; but there are assonances throughout, and the concluding rite de passage only makes real sense as a fairy tale ending. We are not told, however, if Hanna lives happily ever after. [JC]


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