not in our stars, but in ourselves
The TV programming gods have been quite kind to me lately – a little kindness that I very much appreciate, especially this week. In addition to the usual proliferation of Law & Order: SVU marathons, Golden Girls marathons, daily doses of The Barefoot Contessa (truly the champagne of cooking shows), and all the Phantom Gourmet I can stand, I’ve also happened upon The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and tonight’s gem: Hanna (2011). All I know about Joe Wright is that he’s directed one literary adaptation I know I should see – Atonement (2007); and two I’d rather ingest cyanide than bother with – Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Anna Karenina (2012) – although those who know about these things tell me the latter was actually really good, to which I am tempted to say, “bah! humbug.”
But I really, really, REALLY like Hanna.
Somewhere in Finland, Erik Heller (Eric Bana) lives with his teenage daughter Hanna (Saoirse Ronan). They have lived in total isolation for nearly her entire life. During that time, Erik has taught Hanna everything she knows: hunting, languages, history, geography, fitness, hand-to-hand combat, and a thorough backstory. In short: he’s trained her to be an assassin, operating by the motto “adapt or die.” One day, she tells him that she’s ready – ready to go out into the world. She flips a switch on a transmitter in their cabin – the only sign of the twenty-first century, or even the twentieth, in the entire house – thus alerting the C.I.A. to their presence. Agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is personally interested in the Hellers’ case, and she wants them both – dead (Erik) and alive (Hanna).
From there, it’s a race to Berlin, the Hellers’ appointed rendezvous. Erik takes a more direct route. Hanna escapes from a desert government facility, meets up with a silly British family on holiday in Morocco, travels with them to Spain, and then kicks ass across Europe.
You might not get this from the above description, but it’s all a fairy tale. The lovely young princess ventures out into the world, pursued by a jealous evil queen and a team of big bad wolves. She fights through ice and fire, forest and ocean, and grows up in the process. The chosen location for father and daughter’s reunion is an abandoned Grimm’s Fairy Tale-themed amusement park, just in case you weren’t quite getting it.
Don’t let that fool you, though: for an action flick that’s also a fairy tale, it is impressively subtle and quick. Standard-issue action films, for instance, can very often lumber along, struggling under the weight of their own generic conventions: the wisecracking, the explosions, the fistfights, the machismo. Don’t get me wrong, I love Die Hard as much as anyone, but Hanna is a breath of fresh air for its adeptness in juggling kickass fight scenes and actually advancing the plot. Maybe it’s because Hanna is a girl. Take note, Hollywood. And all too often, films with a hint of the fairy tale get bogged down in the most turgid Freudian symbolism. Ohhh, look, it’s about her period. Ohhhh, the sword is a penis. Big bad wolf: rapist/father/lover. Blah, blah, blah. While you could inject all kinds of psychobabble into Hanna and make it stick if you really felt like it, the movie itself doesn’t invite any such drivel. Thank heaven.
Other great things about Hanna: the score, by the Chemical Brothers. The Wikipedia article about the film, rather hilariously, calls it “loud, thumping, deeply funky music.” A hysterically funny description, but not inaccurate. I get this one stuck in my head all the time, and whistle it all the time – just like the biggest and baddest wolf in the piece, Isaacs (Tom Hollander – whom The Thick of It fans might barely recognize as The Fucker from S3E8). The performances are all sterling as well. In the company of vets like Blanchett, Hollander, and Bana, Ronan not only holds her own; she holds her own as an actress, and physically seems every inch the assassin. This is one of those movies that makes me feel woefully inadequate in my own physical culture pursuits. Yeah, I go to the gym, but could I fight my way out of an underground bunker? Could I outrun a C.I.A. operative in a creepy theme park and then fire an arrow precisely? Could I escape several other fellow trained assassins by racing around shipping containers while they were being loaded onto a freighter?
Probably not. Must start doing more varied workouts.
Anyway, TV gods, thanks for the treat. I am still and always funemployed, so keep ’em comin’.