“There are no wrong answers when it comes to creativity” claimed my primary school art teacher, shortly before entirely undermining that statement by giving me an F in her end of year report (look at me now, Mrs Beckwith, look at me now!) She was wrong anyway, there arewrong answers in art, and if you need to be convinced of that, I suggest you go and see ‘Hanna’.
It’s directed by Joe Wright – the latest in the current trend of ‘arty’ directors making big budget studio movies about guns and bombs and people running around and stuff. I was actually really looking forward to seeing how he got on as I’ve been a big fan of much of his previous work.This bit from ‘Atonement’ for example – a five-minute continuous tracking shot across Dunkirk Beach – is genuinely one of the most astonishing sequences I’ve ever seen. The prospect of him bringing that incredible visual style to a taut, exciting action film was, on paper, massively exciting.
And for the first 20 minutes at least, the film definitely lives up to that potential. It opens in the frozen wilds of Northern Finland where we meet Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) a strange, feral girl with extraordinary powers. The only other human being she’s ever seen is her father (Eric Bana) who has trained her from birth into a deadly assassin; expert in martial arts and weaponry and fluent in almost every language. The day will come, he tells her, when she must face her ultimate enemy (Cate Blanchett) the evil CIA chief who killed her mother and now wants her dead too. Hanna, it turns out, is the sole survivor of a secret US Military project to genetically engineer a race of physically enhanced soldiers. The government shut the project down and wants the last piece of evidence, Hanna, to be terminated.
More than anything else I’ve seen, this is a film in need of cigar-chomping Hollywood control freak Harvey Weinstein as an Executive Producer. He would have hit the fucking roof had he seen an early cut of this
Which is all more or less fine, I reckon. The genetically enhanced super soldier thing is basically the same idea form the ‘Bourne Identity’ films, ‘Universal Soldier’ and countless others (the Being really good at beating people up Gene seems to crop up quite regularly in these things – not sure if Richard Dawkins would sign off on that..) But, for an action film, it’s fine. The problems arise, I think, when Joe Wright starts trying a bit too hard to prove how quirky and left-of-centre he is and introduces various elements into the film that are, frankly, mental.
- Like the mincing Terry Nutkins look-alike who lives in a creepy abandoned funfair.
- Or the close-up shot of Cate Blanchett obsessively brushing her teeth until her gums start to bleed.
- Or the family of New Age granola-eating hippies who would have been vaguely satirical in 1993.
Clearly Wright is trying to set the film apart from being a conventional Michael Bay-style action movie, but most of these ‘interesting bits’ are just jarring distractions. It doesn’t really feel like he's in overall control of the tone of the film, which alternates back-and-forth between serious thriller and wacky Terry Gilliam-esque surrealism. The supporting cast, it seems, have been allowed to just make up a character for themselves. Hence Tom Hollander plays a camp neo-Nazi henchman in tight white tennis shorts, while Jessica Barden (as Hanna’s new BFF) seems to have wandered in from a BBC3 sketch show filming next door. Almost every decision the director makes feels so ill-judged and bizarre that I was genuinely expecting him to end the film by bringing a giant Monty Python foot down on everyone’s heads. And, in a way, he kind of does.
It’s a shame really as this is so nearly a good film. It’s got an awesome score by The Chemical Brothers and some stunningly visualized action sequences. The Dunkirk Beach scene is recalled in a similarly ambitious tracking shot following Eric Bana into a subway station, pursued by an army of bad guys. Also, rising above the wacky character acting of her colleagues, Saoirse Ronan (aged just 15) is great in the title role.
More than anything else I’ve seen, this is a film in need of cigar-chomping Hollywood control freak Harvey Weinstein as an Executive Producer. He would have hit the fucking roof had he seen an early cut of this - hoisted Joe Wright up by the lapels and bellowed “that’s NOT what I paid 30 million dollars for you pretentious fuck! Get your pasty British ass back in that editing studio and do it fucking properly!!” It would have been awesome.
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