Hanna is not your average teenage girl, nor is Hanna the film you would expect from director Joe Wright, best known for his earlier period pieces, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Hanna Heller is a very different beast, but beneath her ferocity, she is as full of humanity and need as the characters of those literary adaptations.
The film is stark and startling, from the opening scenes in Finland, ice and frozen forest, an unforgiving wasteland through which Hanna hunts a stag, wounding it before pursuing the dying animal across the ice. She has been taken here by her father Erik to protect her and train her, for seeking them is rogue CIA agent Marissa Wiegler. Once responsible for the breeding programme that created Hanna, she is now desperate to eliminate all traces of it, and the only two surviving loose ends are Hanna and Erik.
Unlike the disappointing Source Code, Duncan Jones’ homogenous US debut which lacked the unique voice that made Moon such an important and affecting film, Hanna remains firmly European despite significant American backing. Pushed forward by a furious soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, Hanna is uncompromising in the stylish fight scenes and its refusal to be a generic action film. The spaces between violent encounters are pensive and sombre, carried by performance and beautiful scenery as Hanna moves from snow to desert, a landscape as alien to her as the surface of Mars it resembles.
In Morocco, Hanna meets a British family on a camping trip, and in the warm kindness they offer, sees a life beyond her understanding, but knows that she will bring down on them the same danger she faces herself. Instead, true to her purpose and goal, she makes her way to a final rendezvous in Berlin, spiritual home of the spy film. In an abandoned amusement park that echoes the book of fairy tales that is her only link to her mother, Hanna must face a final confrontation in the jaws of the big, bad wolf.
Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are rightly regarded as stars of modern international cinema, and it is no surprise that their turns as the fugitive CIA agent and his former superior are ruthlessly convincing, and Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng are equally good in their supporting roles as the couple who shelter Hanna, but the film belongs to Saoirse Ronan. At turns an unstoppable force, as efficient and unhesitating with weapons stolen or improvised as with her bare hands, then fragile and vulnerable, a child abandoned in a world she only knows from textbooks, this is a world away from her sheltered role in Atonement. If she can continue to find material challenging and suited to her talents, she will be a major talent over the coming decades.