There’s no shortage of verve to Hanna, a thriller where the action beats hit with precision and snap, with a camera that moves as if mounted on angel wings, and an unconventional Chemical Brothers score that propels it relentlessly forward. But where is it going? And why? These questions linger over the latest film from Joe Wright, whose stylistic chops helped take the stuffing out of prestige pieces like Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, but seem to be advertising themselves here. Though Hanna moves with great intensity and purpose, Wright isn’t shooting for raw escapism, yet whatever more high-minded ideas he might have intended with this story about a lethal 16-year-old raised in isolation don’t come across, either. The film exists in a peculiar no-man’s land between Hollywood and art.
Gifted young actress Saoirse Ronan, whom Wright cast in a pivotal role in Atonement, carries the film beautifully as a wild child raised in the remote outreaches of Finland. First seen felling a reindeer with a bow and arrow, Ronan has picked up many unusual lessons from her father, ex-CIA agent Eric Bana, including advanced combat and shooting skills, the ability to speak several languages, and enough general knowledge to rewrite Wikipedia. When her father allows her to leave seclusion and see the wider world, it’s with the understanding that she will be a person of interest to the CIA, particularly his ruthless former colleague Cate Blanchett, who will stop at nothing to capture Ronan. Constantly under pursuit—the many chase scenes recall Run Lola Run—Ronan finds refuge with a British family (led by Olivia Williams) traveling through Morocco.
The concept of a lead character who was raised in nature and isolated from the rest of humanity aligns Hanna with classic films like François Truffaut’s The Wild Child or Werner Herzog’s The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, but Wright and his screenwriters, Seth Lochhead and David Farr, don’t study their heroine’s cultural miscues all that closely. Beyond the short time Ronan spends in Morocco, where she makes a like-aged friend and even tries a double date, not much is made of her obvious disconnect with society at large. Most of Hanna is taken up instead by the chase, which is superficially exciting and handled with great aplomb. But the film is running to go nowhere.