The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Saoirse Ronan plays a teen assassin in Hanna.

The movies have a long history of introducing us to highly-trained super-soldiers, assassins, and spies. There is something seductive about the concept of a person who's highly trained in both combat and stealth, who can fend off any assailant with an almost ambivalent ease. Whether it's La Femme Nikita, Jason Bourne, or any of the others who have graced the screen over the years, audiences like to see a master ass-kicker at work. Hanna finds a fresh approach to the idea, making the protagonist a teenage girl. But instead of simply hitting all the typical action-movie beats with an adolescent, Hanna uses its conceit to tell a surprisingly human story about the desire of every teen to feel “normal.”

Saoirse Ronan plays the title character. She lives in the remote, snowy wilds of Finland with her ex-CIA agent father Erik (Eric Bana). He has taught her survival skills, in addition to weaponry and martial arts. She can speak multiple languages fluently. It gradually becomes clear that he's training her to defend herself against a CIA operative named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who patiently waits for the day that Erik and Hanna resurface from their exile. (I won't tell you why.) That day eventually comes when father and daughter proactively emerge. For safety's sake, they split up, with a vow to meet at a predesignated location later on. This begins a race across Europe, with Hanna trying to outrun Marissa and her henchmen at every turn. Thankfully, she can take care of herself on those occasions when she does come face-to-face with them.

Hanna certainly has some elements that are, shall we say, less than original. We've seen almost-superhuman fighting machines before. The mystery of who Hanna is and why Marissa wants her has been a plot point in several other pictures that I can think of. Setting the finale at an amusement park isn't the most innovative thing either; Zombieland is another recent film to go that route. In spite of it all, the familiar elements are enlivened by the moody atmosphere director Joe Wright (Atonement) brings to the story. Using editing tricks, odd camera angles, and the occasional off-kilter lighting choices, Wright intentionally disorients you at times. Just as Christopher Nolan's Memento made you experience its character's short-term memory loss by telling its story in reverse, Hanna's style echoes the girl's emergence into society which, coming as she does from total isolation, feels overwhelmingly heightened.

The action set pieces – of which there are several - are undoubtedly cool, and the best thing about them is that they legitimately serve the story's themes. After leaving the confines of her wilderness hideout, where she does nothing but train constantly, a whole world is opened up for Hanna. In her journey, she meets and sort-of befriends another teen girl, goes on a date, and sees what a real family looks like. Exposure to these things, which she has always been denied, is the ultimate inspiration to escape Marissa's clutches; she wants to have the same access to normality that everyone else does.

Saoirse Ronan was a great choice for the role. After delivering emotionally nuanced performances in Atonement and The Lovely Bones, she again gets a part she can sink her teeth into. Ronan is surprisingly credible as a fighting machine, and she brings much-needed depth to the many character-driven moments. Just look at the scene where Hanna and her friend solidify their friendship; Wright shoots the entire sequence in extreme close-up, so you are forced to pay attention to new-found emotions coming to the surface for the first time. In every frame of this film, you feel Hanna's longing. There's a lot of fighting and chasing on display, including an awesome pursuit through a shipyard, but when all is said and done, it's the ideas that really make the picture special.

Like La Femme Nikita and Run Lola Run, Hanna is a female-driven adventure that throws off a hypnotic vibe. I think it's easier for an action picture to thrill you than it is to touch you, but this one manages to do both. Made with great skill and possessing a killer musical score from The Chemical Brothers, Hanna is action cinema for audiences who crave something deeper than what you typically get.

( 1/2 out of four)

Hanna is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.