Question: when did it become okay to show kids killing people again? I’m not criticizing, I’m just asking: what’s with all the movies about killer kids all of a sudden. It seems like not long ago when, in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, movies like O and Pups that dealt with the issue of youth violence were being pulled from theaters. Now we’ve got movies like Kick-Ass and Let The Right One In which deal prominently with the vaguely disturbing sight of children in the midst of adult violence, and in the case of the former film it’s practically a joke. What’s happened to make this image no longer offensive? School shootings are still happening from time to time and the basic view of violence in the media hasn’t changed, and yet movies that feature children in the midst of said violence are now passé. Again, I’m not criticizing, I’m just curious; and no I don’t really have an answer either. What sparked this little discussion with myself was the latest film from director Joe Wright, Hanna, which places a young looking sixteen year old child in the middle of a violence espionage plot.
The titular character, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), begins the film living with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in a snowy Scandinavian wilderness where she has learned numerous survival skills like martial arts and sharp shooting. Hanna is sixteen but seems oddly younger in a number of ways, in part because she’s been isolated from other people her age and has little knowledge of the outside world. As we look at her life we realize that she’s being prepared for danger, a danger that will come because her father is being hunted by the CIA. The long term plan that heller has had was to use his highly trained daughter as an assassin to kill his CIA rival, a ruthless operative named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), an act which would finally allow Hanna to have a normal life. After some consideration tells her father she’s ready for her mission and the father hesitantly agrees to send her off.
The big flaw in Heller’s plan is that Hanna really isn’t all that good of an agent; her hand-to-hand fighting skills could give Jason Bourne a run for his money but she’s less than competent at pretty much every other element of spycraft. She doesn’t understand half of the things in the outside world, she doesn’t know how to keep a low profile while traveling, and maintaining a cover proves to be pretty difficult when for someone who’s never really spoken to anyone other than her father in her entire life. There’s a scene early in the film where Hanna tries to check in to a crappy hotel room and is unable to handle all of the electronic devices in the room.
I was surprised to see the film to be as interested in Hanna and her inability to function in the world as it was. The setup seemed like the fodder for a exploitation action film about a flawless super-agent, but I suppose that wasn’t quite the right thing to expect from a movie with an A-list cast from the director of Atonement. Still there were a lot of elements to the film that still seemed rooted in exploitation thrills like the title cards, Cate Blanchett’s over-the-top Southern-accented villainess and The Chemical Brother’s throbbing techno score that all seemed well rooted in the exploitation movie that this could have been. All of that give the impression of a rather bi-polar movie that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be: a thoughtful character study or an action romp.
All of this becomes even more confused when a lot of really strange comedic characters begin to be introduced latter in the film like a family of strange English tourists, a ambiguously gay assassin, and another character that seems to be really obsessed with Grimm’s fairy tales. I don’t want to be too hard on the film for including all of this stuff, because it’s quirks like these that at least succeed in differentiating the movie from the many other cookie-cutter post-Bourne spy movies that are out there, but they really do a number on the film’s already confused tone and kind of turn it into a complete mess. It’s hard to see Hanna as a true fish out of water when everyone around her is also a weirdo, and meanwhile we’re also seeing all these crazy action scenes that would probably be all the more fun if the movie was also kind of trying to root itself in some kind of reality. See what I mean about the tone being all over the place.
Hanna is a movie that is sporadically enjoyable but which never quite congeals into the fun ride that it could have been. I appreciated elements like Cate Blanchett’s performance, the film’s cool art direction, and some of the better action sequences but as a whole it just strikes me as a failure. That’s unfortunate because if it had just committed to either the serious, the ridiculous, or the absurd it really could have been a great little cult classic, instead we’re just given a schizophrenic little trifle worthy of little more than a mid-afternoon cable viewing.
**1/2 out of Four