Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hanna (2011)

It is said that Christopher Nolan's formula for success is in making two of the three key elements in any screenplay — plot and narrative — intelligently complex, while leaving the viewer a straightforward path through the maze via the third — character — which he invariably leaves simple, at least in terms of motivations.

One can get a sense of just how mediocre a project Hanna was at conception by mentally stripping away its striking-looking cast, its self-indulgent direction, its intrusive score by the Chemical Brothers, its icky coating of fairy tale resonance etc. until one is left with the core trichotomy of plot, narrative and character, all of which are embarrassingly sub-standard.

Saoirse Ronan became attached to the production first and called in her old mate Joe Wright from Atonement. Sure he could make something of this underdeveloped material? Well no, because the completed movie has the inevitable reek of directorial over-compensation.

The cast are no help. Bana and Blanchett act as if told to cut back on the charisma and Ronan appears to be the result of a secret government programme to genetically engineer unsympathetic lead characters. It doesn't help that the three of them have an essentially pitiless approach to all the other incidental cast members.

The action opens in Finland where Eric and Hanna have been lying low since she was a baby. Eric has filled her mind with facts about the outside world and taught her how to terminate with extreme prejudice, armed and unarmed. The screenwriters then serve up the dumbest of macguffins in the form of a switch and a flashing red light, the result of which is that Hanna ends up in a secret US government facility in Morocco (yes!).

Blanchett plays Marissa, a kind of wicked witch come step-mother, but also a government spook with suggested double-agent tendencies. Once the red light flashes, Marissa will stop at nothing to kill her, Eric tells Hanna, though the rest of the plot hardly bears this out and Marissa only knows of Hanna's existence because the latter gets herself deliberately captured. Cue unlikely escape with Hanna making her way up into Spain by stowing away with an English family in a camper van, who would appear to be a rather limp attempt at satire. On the road Hanna befriends Sophie, played by Jesscia Barden reprising her role as the gobby teen from Tamara Drewe, though to less amusing effect.

Meanwhile Hanna is being trailed by a gang of German skins led by Isaacs (Tom Hollander with a blond hairdo and banana-yellow 80s tracksuit), a sub-villain who is little more than a visual effect and whose lackadaisical attempts to take Hanna captive generate the first in a series of tension-free chase scenes.

An indication of just how hard Wright is working to generate interest from this material is the gratuitous campside extempore Flamenco scene he inserts at this point. It's set within a completely mishandled sequence in which Hanna and Sophie set off with some lads from the Andaluz which, in more capable hands, might have provided an opportunity for character development via engaging dialogue.

The action then jumps rather incoherently from southern Spain to Berlin, a German capital that is really only there to tick the post-Bourne thriller box, but which oddly fails to tick its own inner boxes. Where are the sex shops, the graffiti-strewn stairwells and the techno clubs and other clichés that Unknown so lovingly renewed?

Hanna's one USP as a character we might care about is that her isolation in the forests of the arctic circle has left her strangely unacquainted with the modern world, but the writers have only been bothered to explore her attitude to the unaccustomed sensory experience of music and Joe Wright's own contribution is a ludicrously over-egged scene involving electricity.

Saoirse Ronan might have done better to leave this one in the hands of a more self-consciously commercial director...of the sort who might even have eked a franchise out of this unpromising premise.


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