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“I just missed your heart,” huntress Hanna (Saoirse Ronan)says to a reindeer she’s hit with one of her arrows. Hanna doesn’t leave herwork unfinished, and neither does director Joe Wright’s electrifying “Hanna,”which literally starts and ends with a bang.
Wright and Ronan previouslycollaborated on the harrowing heartbreaker “Atonement,” in which theenthralling young actress played a troublemaking child whose spitefulness ruinsthe lives of her older sister (Keira Knightley) and her sister’s lover (JamesMcAvoy). “Atonement” unfolded slowly and steadily until you felt like theunfortunate prisoner in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” powerlessto stop the inevitable, awful finale. But “Hanna” is an entirely differentexperience, a helter-skelter chase movie that moves like a cheetah in the throes of a sugarrush. Even when you don’t know where it’s going, the ride is exhilarating.
Raised in the rugged, frosty forests of Finland, Hanna isthe daughter of Erik Heller (Eric Bana), a former intelligence agent who made ahasty exit from the world of espionage more than a decade ago and has beenliving in seclusion ever since. Even so, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett),Erik’s former boss-turned-nemesis, has not given up on tracking him down; shealso has her reasons for apprehending Hanna as well. Blanchett, whose gunmetalgray outfits, auburn hair and sardonic smile are reminiscent of early-1980sAnnie Lennox, is both fearsome and funny here, speaking in a tone thatfrequently sounds like icicles being snapped in two, then slathering on a honey-sweetSouthern accent to disarm her victims just before going in for the kill.
When Hanna emerges from hiding, Wiegler goes on the warpath.But the ace assassin may have met her match: Years of often harsh training havemade Hanna brilliant, brutal and dexterous.
What makes “Hanna” an offbeat game of cat-and-mouse is thesometimes bizarre assortment of extras Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochheadand David Farr have included in the mix. Although Hanna is, as they say,book-smart — capable of conversing in multiple languages and of roboticallyreciting facts, figures and trivia about any number of topics — she isfrequently baffled by things she’s never experienced first-hand, like turningon a light switch or using an indoor shower. The shrewd, subtle and completelycaptivating Ronan doesn’t overplay these reactions, which that makes them thatmuch more amusing.
When Hanna must hide out with a wonderfully whacked-outBritish family during her jaunt from Morocco to Spain, she is oblivious aboutwhat constitutes “normal” behavior and conversation. “What did your mother of,Hanna?” the father (Jason Flemyng) politely asks. “Three bullets,” Hanna calmlyreplies.
Wright loves to find the musicality in everyday sounds, such as the crackle of a fluorescent light warming up, the gentle whirling of a ceiling fan and the rattle of an electric kettle. He used this technique to illustrate the discordant symphony that surrounded the schizophrenic hero (Jamie Foxx) of "The Soloist"; here, it cues us in that Hanna's senses are sharper, slightly more acute than those of anyone else around her. Some of Wright’s other stylistic touches recall the heydayof David Lynch: a wheelchair-bound derelict in a newsstand warbles tunelesslyto no one in particular; Hanna makes her way through an abandoned amusementpark, passing broken or mutilated statues of prehistoric beasts; a killer (TomHollander) with peroxided hair whistles a cheery melody as he prepares to dohorrendous deeds. Hanna is bewitched by a book of Grimms’ Fairy Tales; beforeher adventure is over, she’ll have to hide out in a hallucinatory version ofthe cookie cottage on which Hansel and Gretel once nibbled.
The humor and Ronan’s impressive physical feats are matchedby Wright’s command of the shockingly sleek action sequences, several of whichwere filmed in one continuous take. Remember that jaw-dropping episode midwaythrough “Atonement” in which Wright’s camera moved through the ruins ofDunkirk, capturing the story of the entire town in a single sweep? He uses asimilar technique here in a mind-bogglingly choreographed scene in which asingle camera follows Erik out of a Berlin train station, through the streets,down an escalator and into a subway, where he does battle with half a dozenwould-be assassins. Cinematographer Alvin A. Kulcher is nearly always inmotion, although, remarkably, the fights and pursuits in “Hanna” neverdegenerate into flashy, slapdash chaos, like the nearly unwatchable action scenesin “Sucker Punch” and “Battle Los Angeles,” due in part to Paul Tothill’s skillfulediting.
The movie is driven by a throbbing, propulsive electronicscore by The Chemical Brothers that perfectly answers the question Hanna asksErik early on: “What does music feel like?” The soundtrack rocks; so does the movie it accompanies.