Not every movie must be driven by characters. Some may be shoved forward against their will by a Chemical Brothers soundtrack. Or so hopes director Joe Wright, formerly of “Pride & Prejudice” and most recently of “The Soloist,” who now brings us the steadily grooving but swiftly degenerating faux-fairy-tale revenge thriller (or gangling music video) known as “Hanna.”
Saoirse Ronan, the precocious Oscar nominee from Wright’s “Atonement,” here plays a motherless teenager who has grown up with very limited people skills but serious prowess in the lethal-badass arts. Eric Bana’s ex-CIA operative, possibly her father, has been training her alone in the Scandinavian wilderness for many years, and now sends her into an affectedly dangerous world on a deadly mission of evasion and payback. She’ll have to face off with Cate Blanchett, a sinister American agent with whom Bana’s character has a bad history, while en route to reunite with Bana in Berlin. Many threats arise along the way, but–whether it has to do with the engineering of her genes or the plot–so does the sense that Hanna can take care of herself. She doesn’t need, well, anybody, really, including us. So may we be excused?
Not without a fight. In “Hanna,” Wright’s style seems to consist of rehashing passé thriller tricks and trying quite hard to be cool, or at least to be more than just a limited specialist of The Well-Made Adaptation of The Well-Made Book™. Certainly “Hanna” is something else–something even more limiting. Screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr have only enabled Wright’s wandering and squandering: shapeless supporting roles allow for, among other travesties, an overacting Blanchett and an underused Olivia Williams.
Ronan meanwhile does her best to just get through the desperately fancy camera moves and the tellingly hesitant camp, presided over by Tom Hollander as Blanchett’s mincing, tracksuited minion. She also manages to make time for a quick tour of Morocco and many wondrous new discoveries contained therein, including electricity, horny boys and irritating comic relief from a randomly available would-be friend played by Jessica Barden. (Yes, a brief feeling of exotic possibility does emerge in these sun-soaked scenes, but soon enough it’s squashed by adamant plotting.) And of course, when pressed, she manages to apply what she has learned of the lethal-badass arts.
As for her trainer, he comports himself with amenity, although no one would blame him for misbehaving. A showy one-take fight between Bana and a handful of bad guys, superfluous and preposterous to begin with, also seems weirdly over-rehearsed and full of pulled punches. Otherwise he passes the time by practicing his Werner Herzog impression. Ah, maybe he is misbehaving.
In hindsight it seems depressingly ill-advised for Wright to even bother trying to allay all this “Femme Nikita” foolishness. Yet there he goes busying himself with pretentious allusions to harrowing fairy tales, apparently and unfortunately unaware that “Hanna” might instead have feigned a learned comment on beauty and valor by exploiting Ronan’s very real resemblance to Botticelli’s Venus in “Venus and Mars.”
No. That would just be more ridiculous. It is the nature of a picture such as this that it offers no respite from artless, directionless art direction. That is, unless you count the soundtrack.