An experimental government program sends soldier Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) back in time, where he wakes up in the body of a commuter who witnesses a train bombing. Presented with just 8 minutes to figure out who is responsible, his mission is further complicated by his feelings for a fellow passenger (Monaghan).
Considering how twisted Grimm's fairy tales really were, it's saying something to call Joe Wright's "Hanna" a warped version of a Grimm story, bent for the modern age. Yeah, it's a bit glib, but what else can you say about a movie that starts off in a forest, ends inside of the Big Bad Wolf's mouth and features a lot of dead people along the way?
The titular Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a genetically modified, trained to perfection assassin – she knows ever muscle and bone in the human body and how to bend and twist them to such affect she can take down a full grown man more than twice her size. Unfortunately, living in a cabin just south of the Arctic Circle her whole life, she hasn't been trained in how to deal with other people or the world in general.
Joe Wright's first dive into the action genre ends up being a weird mélange of coming-of-age film, modern spy thriller and modern day Odyssey. The experience of it is about as strange as the description, with its unique visuals, deliberate pace and focus on character and mood above thrills and adrenaline.
Realizing she's getting too old to be content to stay at home in the forest any longer, her father (Eric Bana) decides it time for her to start taking the first steps into adult life. Of course, her father being an ex-spy himself, that means being sent to trap and kill her father's old handler (Cate Blanchett) before she can do the same to them.
I know I've said it a couple of times, but "Hanna" is a strange a straightforward genre thriller as I've come across in a while. What sort of strange parallel universe have we entered where the diminutive Tom Hollander can be cast as 'the muscle?' Not that there's anything wrong with that; actually there's quite a bit right. It's refreshing in its frequent refusal to accept the thriller status quo while still trying to deliver the good old action thriller moments we go to these films for.
Mainly it works because of the performances, which are excellent across the board, believably turning Seth Lochhead and David Farr's ("MI-5") screenplay from what could have been an annoying journey into misguided whimsy.
Ronan is the anchor, moving believably between open eyed wonder at hearing music for the first time to kung-fu-ing a hulking German assassin, often in the blink of an eye. The film is told almost entirely from her point of view and she is more than up to the challenge, often outdoing her experienced co-stars and not from any lack of trying on their part. There is quite a bit of scenery chewing going on, especially once Hanna escapes from a secret Moroccan CIA facility and begins her trek to Germany in the company of wandering hippy British family.
But it works. In fact the best moments may well be the quiet ones between Hanna and the eccentric family in the VW bus as she innocently takes in every goof thing they say, and learns for the first time what it means to connect with a stranger.
The action junkies may not have the patience for that, nor for some of its stranger fairy tale roots, particularly once does it reach Berlin. Which doesn't mean it doesn't have plenty for the visceral set. Wright has, as expected, composed a beautiful film. Cinematographer Alwin Külcher ("Sunshine") and production designer Sarah Greenwood ("Sherlock Holmes") have combined to create some remarkable imagery, playing up the Grimm's fairy tale aspect for all its might without ever making the film feel too bizarre or not of today. Wright's great love of extended tracking shots is in full force as well, culminating in a 5-plus minute spectacle of Bana leaving a bus station; being followed down a busy Berlin street into a subway and engaging in a complex extended fight scene, all without a cut.
Like a good fairy tale, "Hanna" is easy to describe but hard to sum up as much of its nature is tied up in the experience of the thing. A mish mash of technique and focus, it doesn't succeed at any of the types of films it plays at as well as it could, but it succeeds at being something different brilliantly thanks to a game cast and sure-handed direction.