Certain things are expected from Hanna, the latest from Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright: a snowy tundra-bound training sequence, a trippy jolt through a flashy industrial tunnel, and a sprint across a cramped metropolitan space. But that's the easier-to-digest action factor, which the film's advertising somewhat erroneously plays up; then, there's an underlying, defiantly indie side that will take some by surprise, where an isolated girl inexperienced to the world's sensory joys screams at a overflying plane, listens to music for the first time by a Moroccan campfire, and lets sunshine and wind wash over her while she's riding in a car. Wright's film looks, moves, and breathes the way you'd expect a kinetic spy-thriller to through the eyes of a competent art-house director, with a flair for original filmmaking -- and an eye for gothic Brothers Grimm-caliber fairytales -- as its guiding force.
There's a reason for the title's simplicity: it's more about the willowy teenage girl at the center than the path that the story takes. Pint-sized powerhouse Saoirse Ronan plays that girl, brought up in the biting cold of Finland under the tutelage of her father, ex-CIA agent Erik Kessler (Eric Bana); she's taught how to shoot, fight, kill and survive in and around a rustic wood cabin that's separated from the civilized world, while she learns how to speak nearly every language and about things like biology and music from dime-store encyclopedias. But all that home-brew education can only go so far, and Hanna can only restrain herself in the cabin for so long. She soon learns she's been in hiding for a reason (one she's unaware of at first), kept away from the clutches of a conniving government operative, Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett), and if she chooses to live a normal life in the open, she's got to get halfway around the world and take out this woman -- who, at the same time, will be alerted to Hanna's presence as soon as she leaves the cabin.
Seth Lockheed and David Farr's free-flowing script centers on that core mystery: why is this girl, who possesses enough strength and skill to drag an elk across a snowy field after she's defeated her father in a sparring match, being kept a secret? Don't worry; any questions over Hanna's capabilities will receive an answer, though it's not a question that Joe Wright intends on exposing through blunt exposition. Instead, he guides us on Hanna's journey -- jolting between the underbelly of an industrial CIA warehouse to the expanses of Morocco and Berlin -- as she learns about the things she's only read about in books, exploring the character's wide-eyed discovery instead of rushing to blossom the seed of mystery. For the first time, Hanna sees the flicker of electricity, hears the twang of music, and even chats with other people (including an affable British family, including a verbose, loose-tongued teenage girl of her age), and we're left intrigued by her smiling, curious, unswerving absorption of the things she's missed out on during her time in "the forest".
Her sensory exposure becomes ours, to which Joe Wright diverts from his rustic period pieces and constructs a modern outside-the-box artistic vision that's unexpected of the action picture it claims itself to be. Much ado has been made about The Chemical Brothers' pulsating score, and it's utterly involving; an onslaught of forceful percussion and rhythm propels the film's active bursts, while delicate sweeps of fluttering chimes and choral vocals guide through Hanna's quieter moments. It's a gorgeously-shot picture as well, by way of Alwin Kuchler's cinematography; the snowy expanses of a frigid European landscape frame Hanna's environment in both beauty and isolation, while the warmth of Morocco and the chilly, misty confines of Berlin maintain a consistent visual mood that mirrors Hanna's. Wright employs these flourishes with a deft eye for consistent pace and momentum, which invokes shimmers of Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth and Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run in the process.
While Joe Wright lets his imaginative flag fly, something that's expected from an art-minded director, he also -- somewhat surprisingly -- knows how to capture the movement and intensity of Hanna's action. Granted, he goes a little overboard with one scene: a flashing, spinning tunnel sequence at the CIA base of operations, though thematically relevant and composed well-enough, feels out-of-place. But the rest of the hand-to-hand combat and foot races are cleanly-edited, pulled back to reveal what's going on, and highly visceral and energetic, showing that the period-piece director can compose scenes of any nature -- no matter if it's intimate drama of violent thrashing. While not persistent, the action delivers fiercely where it needs to. Oddly, the coup de grace isn't involving Hanna, but a masterfully low-key, stringently choreographed tracking-shot involving Erik and a horde of operatives in Germany.
Saoirse Ronan is dead-on as Hanna. Reserved, sinuous, yet carefully warmed when needed, the pale blue-eyed actress gives her an other-worldly essence that befits an untamed yet skilled assassin from the wilderness, while her graceful frame makes it equally as interesting to watch in fight sequences as it is to watch her curious prying. Her rapport with Erik Bana can be brusque, but they play well off each other during intense moments -- especially in a fervent conversation near the film's climax. Bana also handles his bursts of action with aplomb, where he almost sees as much as Hanna. Cate Blanchett, however, is a peculiar addition as Marissa Viegler; she forces a thick southern accent and an overtly devilish persona, though it aligns well with Wright's aims in making her a "wicked witch". You'll also be left curious as to why Marissa has such a melancholy quasi-parental attitude about Hanna, which Blanchette sneakily slips in: is it because of the past that's being drudged up, or something more than that?
Wright skillfully marries action and art-house components into what's ultimately a modern-era fairy tale doubling as a parable of growing up, operating on his own inventive terms as his film stylishly -- and evocatively -- tightrope-walks between realism, whimsy, and a surgically-handled science-fiction element. The fable motifs aren't subtle, though, from Hanna's nook in the snowy forest to her journey to an Austrian-inspired house of magic found at the end of an abandoned, almost Chernobyl-level amusement park. But that blatancy also becomes part of Wright's assertive whimsical expression, captivating to the eyes even as the story weaves through the familiar beats of an action-suspense climax, not unlike the Bourne films. The melding of tones reaches a fever pitch in the final resolute moments that telegraph just the right punch at the end of Hanna, to which Wright has realized a hefty amount of ambition into a satisfyingly vigorous action film with complex, intuitive, and fanciful substance to spare.
Over in the United Kingdom, Universal have continued their consistent release of limited-edition steelbooks with Hanna, arriving in a two-disc presentation: one Blu-ray, and one DVD/Digital Copy disc. Something you'll notice, in a change of pace, is that there aren't any ratings logos to be found anywhere on the case itself -- only on the discs. As with nearly all of Universal's UK Blu-ray releases, Hanna is 100% region-free and compatible with players in the United States, while all (!) of the special features are accessible since they're AVC-encoded and in high-definition. The Blu-ray disc itself is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the one available in the United States, aside from the inclusion of actual artwork on top; even the BD-Live features are accessible on Internet-enabled devices.
Video and Audio:
A key component to Hanna's overall success resides in its audiovisual flair, so the Blu-ray presentation has a lot to support on its shoulders. But boy, does Universal deliver the goods with Joe Wright's film, as it looks as good -- sure, even a bit better -- than it did in the theaters. The 2.35:1 1080p AVC transfer absolutely nails the intended look for Alwin Kuchler's cinematography, sustaining crisp true-white levels during the snow sequences, baking sun-drenched warmth in Morocco, and sleek but respectful contrast rendering during the darker scenes around the shipping yard and inside Erik's cabin. You'll see appropriate skin tones for the scene's lighting -- crisp, cold, and pink in Finland, warm and robust in the desert, pale and exhausted in Berlin, and flat-out natural within interiors -- while the frequently ratcheted-up range of motion moves elegantly in 24 frames-per-second without a hitch, though it also takes its time and settles on some crisply-rendered textures for good measure. At a high bitrate that mostly hovers in mid-30s kbps and dances around a myriad of colors, it's a staggering, supple, and natural high-definition rendering.
As good as the visual treatment is, the DTS-HD Master Audio fares even better. A multitude of elements go into why this audio treatment excels, but the one that clearly stands out is the Chemical Brothers' scoring, which pummels, thumps, and gracefully flutters across all elements of the sound stage. It tests bass retention, flickering atop the high-frequency shelf, and punches everywhere in between with immersive exuberance, propelling the sound design along with the appropriate stream of energy. The rest of the sound elements follow suit, balancing against the score with exceptional awareness; gunshots pop off with throaty, occasionally chest-rattling intensity, the punches of hand-to-hand combat rattle the mid-level core of the design, and subtle sound effects -- the opening and button-pushing of an electronic safe, the clank of a pipe, the clapping and stomping during the flamenco dance in Morocco, the flickering of flames, and the stretching an elastic chord -- sound, quite simply, perfect in their appropriation against the film's core purposes. Really, this sound offering has it all, and it's magnificent in what it accomplishes. French and Spanish DTS tracks are also available, alongside a DVS service for the blind or visually impaired, and though they're not able to be selected from the menu, English, French, and Spanish optional subs can be accessed internally.
Commentary with Joe Wright:
I've enjoyed Joe Wright's previous commentary chats, but as a fan of Hanna, this one is a little disappointing. It's not because of his elucidation of the content, mind you; he offers plenty of intriguing film theory-level insights, from scenes his fancies (his favorite being the tunnel scene, which he explains) and cinematography flourishes (his talk about dual suns in the car ride is pretty neat). Unfortunately, Wright occasionally sounds self-doubting about Hanna as a final product, especially when it comes to the unevenness of the picture's tones. Some -- sure, myself included -- will consider this a down-to-earth move in which he's just being real about his missteps, but I also feel like he could feel a bit more avowed in what he's created. This isn't consistent, though, as he also shows intermittent pride in things he's crafted. Aside from that, it's business as usual for Wright's commentary, marking the same rhythm of revelations, silent gaps, and narration as his track on the Atonement Blu-ray.
Adapt or Die (13:15, HD AVC):
Cleverly disguised as a typical press-kit feature, this mix of behind-the-scenes shots and interview material succinctly conveys Joe Wright's desire -- and the cast's -- desire to execute a beyond-the-norm action film to the highest of standards. You'll get to see Saoirse Ronan in the training arena, as well as hear her chat about the vigors of getting prepped for the role, while Eric Bana says what we're all thinking: we're tired of seeing tons of cuts in action films. The content ping-pongs effortlessly between shots in the snowy wilderness to the shipping yard and the circular CIA room, hitting insightful points along the way while backed with further solid interview time.
Central Intelligence Allegory (8:54, HD AVC):
Here, the cast and crew chat up the usage of the allegorical elements in the film, backed with storyboarded shots and interviews that elucidate the elements to further detail. Sure, they're pretty much regurgitating what we've already pieced together form watching the film, but hearing them add their own insights into the conversation becomes rewarding -- from Cate Blanchett discussing genetics to Saoirse Ronan toss around "The Little Mermaid" as her basis of awareness for the picture.
Chemical Reaction (6:06, HD AVC):
Accompanied by the same crisp promotional photographs that adorn the other features, Joe Wright talks about employing the talents of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons for Hanna. He chats up his fondness for classical scores, then feeds over into his back-slapping of the group's work on the film -- which does, admittedly, deserve quite a bit of praise, both as its own inclusive work and in its invigoration of the film's themes and essence.
The Wide World of Hanna (2:12, HD AVC):
This is, quite simply, a cramped, rushed glimpse at the look and environment of the film. It's dominated by scene and story narration, with some very brief offerings from Joe Wright and the producers in elucidating how they popped around from the desert, metropolis, Finland snowy forests and elsewhere. This could've EASILY been beefed into a thiry-minute featurette instead of this exceedingly brief piece, which is almost a tease more than anything else.
Also included are a collection of a few Deleted Scenes (3:46, HD AVC) that, to be frank, are actually extremely pertinent to the film's cohesiveness and would's assuredly helped more than hindered in their placement, as well as Anatomy of a Scene: The Escape from Camp G (3:10, HD AVC), which offers a quick but efficient and insightful glimpse into the creation of the scene, almost operates as its own commentary sequence (since it's included nearly in its entirety with Wright chatting about the content). To top things off, we've also got a Hanna Promo (1:28, HD AVC) that almost works as a trailer, but not quite, and an Alternate Ending (1:28, HD AVC) that, if you can believe it, actually adds even MORE (unnecessary) resoluteness to the end of the film.
Joe Wright's Hanna is a unique thriller, to be certain. It blends action, art-house drama, fairytale sensibilities and the subtle element of other-worldly mystery into its energy, which the period-film director brings to life into a thoroughly impressive and entrancing collision of tones. He also imbibes the film with bountiful artistic playfulness and precision, complete with a full-throttle score from The Chemical Brothers and an infectious photographic eye for the well-composed, often invigorating action. It's easily one of the year's most impressive artistic experiments, topped off with a heroine at its core from Saoirse Ronan that's not to be missed. Universal's Blu-ray -- whether we're talking about the US release or this limited UK released reviewed here -- delivers exceptional video and audio merits, alongside satisfying (if slight) special features that include an insightful but wishy-washy commentary, typically suitable featurettes, and deleted/aternate scenes. Highly Recommended.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site