Saoirse Ronan ably portrays teen pursued by CIA in spy thriller

Posted: April 07, 2011

The title character in "Hanna" is the love child of Jason Bourne and Xena, home-schooled on the tundra in the ways of killing and fighting.

In the opening scene, teen huntress Hanna apologizes to a reindeer for missing its heart with an arrow, then puts a mercy bullet in its brain.

She learns the ethos of the clean kill from dad (Eric Bana), a retired secret agent who's raising Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) to prepare for the inevitable day when the CIA comes looking for her, tying up loose ends related to a Cold War episode gone bad.

When the black helicopters arrive, he sends her out into the world with these cheery words: "Adapt or die."

Given those limited options, most of us would choose to adapt, and so does Hanna, making a series of spectacular escapes from CIA prisons and traps as she's relentlessly pursued by a frosty agency big shot (Cate Blanchett) and her German cabaret-owning, hermaphrodite-loving henchman (Tom Hollander).

Yes, a cabaret-owning, hermaphrodite-loving henchman. Who wears designer jogging suits and whistles a happy tune while he stalks and kills his quarry.

"Hanna" is awash in such eccentricity - the screenplay (and set decorators) signal from time to time that its girl-in-peril narrative is inspired by the creepy fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

This creates plenty of opportunities for director Joe Wright to go bonkers, as he's known to do. The expressive English director sometimes jumps the shark ("Atonement"), but there are time when he gets everything right - the sunrise scene in "Pride and Prejudice," the group-therapy scene in "The Soloist."

"Hanna" has a few of these moments, and seems to find the right action-comedy-fable gear in North Africa, where the fugitive Hanna hitches a ride with a family of English hippies touring the world in a microbus.

The mother is the estimable Olivia Williams, the daughter the increasingly estimable Jessica Barden, the teen who was so good and so funny in "Tamara Drewe." She steals just as many scenes here as a girl with a understandable crush on the quietly fearsome Hanna.

I don't know what's to be done, at this point, with the role of treacherous CIA boss, and Blanchett seems to be trying way too hard - her performance consists mostly of a bad wig and a southern drawl that comes and goes. Blanchett pushes the movie in the direction of camp, although I feel bad for any actress who's cast as the big-bad wolf and is forced to stand in the jaws of a giant wolf head.

Ronan, though, is the right girl for "Hanna." Her pale coloring has an otherworldly quality that's ideal for this role. And, although under orders to be stoic, she has a strange sort of expressiveness that keeps Hanna from being a dull, blank slate.

Hard to to be dull, anyway, when you're snapping the necks of so many people - she has a hyper-competence and a true grit that make her a cousin to the young women in "Kick Ass" or "Let Me In," or the heroine of the "Hunger Games" series, now being converted into a movie.

Filmmakers seem to be weaponizing young women, perhaps in response to the string of dramas ("Red Riding Hood," "The Killing") wherein they are preyed upon and murdered.

These new girls are taking their cue from Hanna's dad. They're adapting.

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