By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
After two stuffy movies and one that stiffed, Joe Wright seems determined to prove he can direct a popcorn movie with Hanna. If you're seeking a higher-brow version of The Professional and take-your-pick of the Bourne flicks, here it is.
Wright made his name with the austere dramas Atonement and Pride and Prejudice then smeared it with The Soloist, each based on novels. Hanna is his first original source material but not entirely, with all the scary fairy tale references attached to a yarn about a genetically programmed teenage assassin.
Her name is Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan, somewhere between Natalie Portman's killer protege in The Professional and Hit Girl from Kick-Ass. Hanna has been raised under spartan conditions by her father (Eric Bana) near the Arctic Circle, unaware of civilization. She reads about things like music, kissing and electricity but never experiences them until her life depends on it, when she's on the lam from hired killers.
Leading the posse is Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a CIA agent alarmed that Hanna and her father are still alive and determined to change that, for reasons that aren't as mysterious as the screenwriters believe. Or as completely explained as they need to be.
Hanna is merely a violent chase movie with Wright's delusions of grandeur that made his previous works such chores to get through. The neck snapping and throat slashing does make a difference in sustaining interest, and a pulsating techno-aggression score by the Chemical Brothers beats tony violins and cellos for staying awake. The action is well-staged if overly frenetic in its editing — a sign that Wright isn't entirely confident with such material.
More in tune with his sensibilities is the film's midsection, when Hanna ventures to a puzzling and disturbing outside world. She meets (and endangers) a vacationing family, making her first friend (Jessica Barden) and almost receiving her first kiss from a boy, although some defensive instincts are tough to shake. For a while, Hanna is a unique spin on coming-of-age tales, with a girl's awakening hampered by what she knows about death, rather than what she doesn't understand about life.
Too often, however, the screenplay passes off fairy tale allusions as cleverness: Marissa is the crocodile-smiling wicked witch, and if you miss that she literally emerges later from the mouth of a big, bad wolf. Dad is the woodsman saving his snow white daughter, and their rendezvous is planned for the birthplace of the brothers Grimm. It's initially amusing but like the pounding music gets tiresome with repetition.
Hanna is a fitfully entertaining movie in an awkward position; too arty for the action crowd yet too unsubtle for more refined tastes. If Wright still searches for his creative niche, this isn't it.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.