Monday, April 11, 2011

Hanna - Theatrical Review


Release Date: April 8, 2011

I went into this expecting a fairly by the numbers revenge tale involving a young girl who was trained by her father to murder an evil government agent. Let it be known that even though that is the basic framework of the narrative it is much more than anything that simple. It surprised me and that is a very rare thing to find these days amongst a sea of remakes, re-imaginings and sequels.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 2:10 pm April 9, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D - ETX

What is an ETX enhanced theater?

ETX or as I prefer to know it as, Extremely Trying eXperience. This was my first experience in one of these theaters and thought I would share my thoughts on it with you. First of all AMC proudly boasts that their ETX theaters have "20% larger floor to ceiling screens, breathtaking sound and digital projection that is higher resolution than HD". Now to the layman all that means is the screen is bigger, the sound is louder and the screen is sharper. They are currently charging around 2 to 4 dollars more for these screens than the normal digital experience. The question then is whether or not it is worth it?

Well, I am afraid that it isn't worth it, at least that was the feeling I had after watching Hanna in their ETX theater. To their bullet points, the screen is definitely bigger but no bigger than their LI-MAX screens. The sound...well this was my main problem actually. While the sound was most definitely louder it was more of the turn-the-volume-up type of loud as opposed to a fully equalized and calibrated experience. To put it simply there was no bass at work at all during the entire film. The sound was turned up to ear-piercing loudness and came primarily from behind the screen but that doesn't make the sound any better. When I approached one of the employees to tell them to turn the sound down (just for reference I love my audio turned up but only when it is done so in a proper way). Her response was that ETX is supposed to be loud. My retort was that loud doesn't mean you simply turn the knob up, for which I received a look of puzzlement. I had worked in a projection booth for over 5 years and know how a theater auditorium's sound is supposed to work and their audio was not properly calibrated and they would not do a thing about it.

Finally there is the higher resolution of the picture...I didn't notice a difference honestly. At least if there were a difference it didn't equate to charging me more money and deafening me with a bass-less audio system. Overall I found the ETX experience to be very unfulfilling and warn anyone out there thinking about it to be cautious. I hope that this was only the fault of the one theater but knowing AMC like I do they most likely sent out a memorandum with detailed instructions on how to present an ETX performance. The mere fact that this enhanced theater nearly ruined a fantastic film for me is criminal enough but is doubled by the idea that they would not adjust their sound or even apologize for a poor screening. If you wish to give it a go then so be it but I will not grace another ETX enhanced AMC theater again anytime in the near future.

Loves: Revenge thrillers, Cate Blanchett
Likes: Eric Bana, the Chemical Brothers music
Neutral: Lazy plotting
Hates: Manically edited action scenes
Implied: Stories from Grimm's Fairy tales

This is an unconventional film in the best possible way. From the trailer to even the opening moments of the actual film we are being prepared for a revenge/action fantasy. It's not so much that we don't get that because we do, oh boy how we do. But it is more like those promises were made to lure us in and trap us with a story that is so much more than a person seeking revenge on another. Hanna was directed by Joe Wright and I have to plead ignorance here because I haven't seen any of his previous work. However when I glossed over his few past films I did take note that not a one of them appeared to be action or thriller oriented. I suppose if I had done my homework and had seen any of his other works I might have been a little more prepared for what Hanna is. Regardless of my expectations though I was fully engulfed in the world and characters presented here and found it to be a refreshing take on the revenge/thriller genre.

Our first image of Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is as she stalks and kills her prey out in the middle of a snow covered forest. We know immediately that this girl is not to be meddled with. She is living in seclusion with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) where he has been training her not only how to survive on her own but also how to speak numerous other languages and making her memorize a false life in order to deceive those that are chasing them when caught. Hanna and her father have been hiding from a government agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) for many years. They have what seems like a full proof plan in place where they will use Hanna as bait, let her be captured and just when the moment is right she will strike. That plan of course doesn't go quite the way they thought and soon both Hanna and Erik find themselves on the run from Marissa as they attempt to find another way to accomplish what they set out to do.

Hanna prepares her fresh kill.

This may seem kind of odd but despite that synopsis being fairly accurate that is not really the main focus of Hanna. While all the build up to the attempted assassination of Marissa is well executed it was all the moments afterwards that truly pulled me in. Since Hanna has lived most of her entire life out in the wilderness training every day to become a lethal and skilled killer she never had a chance to actually live her life. The cabin that her and her father live in has no power, there is no television, no radio and they never leave to go to town, they essentially had no contact with the outside world. So once she is set free by her father to be on her own, other than her mission and to eventually meet up with her father again she was not truly prepared for the world that awaited her.

It was these moments where we see Hanna discovering what she has been denied her whole life that is the true focal point of the film. It almost seemed as if the first 20 to 30 minutes were all set up to get us to this point of her journey where she is free to explore this world that she had always imagined. In particular I loved the moments when we see Hanna trying to cope with this fast moving and loud civilization she has been thrown into. Early on when she is given a room to stay in we see her try to process all the sensory invading noises and images going on at the same time where she just can't handle it all and eventually storms out. This reaction comes from a young teenage girl whom we just saw kill over a dozen trained soldiers while escaping a maximum security facility and now we see she is beaten by the simplest of images and sounds of a low rent motel room.  

Hanna's father Erik has raised her with one sole purpose in mind, revenge.

That of course is part of what makes the film unique in this well worn genre. Hanna is still a young girl, a highly skilled killer for sure, but a girl none the less. When we see her freak out in that motel room it is our first sign that she is just as vulnerable as any child would be if left on their own like she is. Her father never truly prepared her for what she may encounter on her journey homeward. So out of desperation and curiosity she ends up befriending a traveling family comprised of a mother, father, brother and sister that end up being her guide into this foreign landscape. I absolutely loved everything involving her travels with this family, her discoveries and reactions to everything were beautifully realized and sometimes even comical. We know she never had any friends as a child and I found the connection she makes with the sister of the family to be genuinely heartwarming.

But that is only one side of the coin, the other being the people that are relentlessly pursuing her across the country. The character of Marissa is a complicated and interesting one. You know that she has a history with Erik that revolves around Hanna in some way but we don't know what their connection is exactly. All we know is that Erik had trained Hanna to kill Marissa at first sight and if she failed that Marissa would hunt them down mercilessly. Even though Marissa is technically working for an unnamed government agency we know something isn't quite right when she begins to go outside the normal channels and bring in special help to hunt down the father and daughter team. This special help is probably one of the strangest and off the wall group of individuals I have seen in a while with one of them a metrosexual type that has an affinity towards bright colored track suits and two neo-Nazi henchmen along for the ride.

Marissa is a complicated woman and a heartless one.

The film is rife with these oddball characters but none of them ever take center stage. They are always there in the background though. It is a little difficult to surmise the odd nature of some of these characters but I believe that they are meant to evoke a sense of danger or mischief that is present in the classic Grimm's Fairy Tales. I don't think I am making too much of a leap here with this analogy since the actual book is used in the film as is an entire theme park modeled after all its stories. There is never an instant where we are meant to go "Ah-Ha!", at any of the insinuations being made but more of a general feeling of familiarity to the situations and/or characters we are witnessing.

Hanna doesn't feel like she is comprised of just one character from a fairy tale but more of an amalgamation of different little girls from assorted narratives. Her journey to meet her father can be seen as a reference to Little Red Riding Hood going to meet her Grandmother with the big bad wolf (Marissa) constantly on her tail. The three men that Marissa hired to help in the pursuit of Hanna felt extremely surreal each and every time they appeared on screen. I am not entirely versed in everything having to do with fairy tales but much of the film had an overall fairy tale fell to all of the proceedings. Much like in any story involving a naive character traveling by themselves we see Hanna befriend many different types of characters on her journey that all help her in adapting to the world that becomes key to her survival.

Metrosexuals are the new guns for hire it seems.

And if the story of Hanna herself is an allegory for a fairy tale then that is contrasted completely with her father's journey. His travels, while brief, were more akin to your usual spy/espionage tales with him taking down evil agents at a moments notice and trying to track down Marissa before she can find Hanna. That's not to say Hanna never gets to do any ass kicking beyond the opening moments. In what was probably my favorite action oriented scene in the film Hanna fights off and evades capture from her pursuers in a shipyard cargo facility. The way the scene was edited and pieced together made it flow in such a way that Hanna almost felt like a super hero as she would pop out from the shadows or seen running and jumping across a sea of cargo containers. Again though what made this scene work was all the build up to it, we are made to identify with Hanna and her plight as she learned the intricacies of the world and began to care for this family that up until a couple days prior didn't mean a thing to her.

Alas this is not a perfect film and has its share of issues for me. What ended up being my least favorite aspect of the film surprisingly were a good number of the action beats. I loathe quick cuts and edits in a fight or action scene. I know many filmmakers employ such tactics because they feel as though it conveys a certain sense of urgency to a pivotal moment. While I agree with that idea the execution never works for me. Other than the impressive cargo yard sequence just about every other action set piece failed to work for me unfortunately. The worst offender is during Hanna's escape from her imprisonment. That entire scene was an editorial nightmare with the camera often spinning out of control, every place she went to looked alike and just a basic feeling of being lost pervaded. It was without a doubt one of the worst escape scenes I have seen in quite sometime which was a shame because it should have been the time where we got to see Hanna strut her stuff.

Hanna certainly has an angelic quality to her.

Thankfully the other action scenes didn't suffer as much from any over editing but the sting of that breakout stuck with me throughout the rest of the film. I also found that there wasn't much logic to how Marissa was constantly able to track either Erik or Hanna down. There was a scene where we see Erik arrive in Germany via the river where he is spotted by two police officers. He kills them off screen but the follow up to that is a scene where Marissa is at that very spot and somehow she knows it was Erik that killed them. I know some of these spies or agents are really good at their job but that seemed a bit lazy to me. If that were the only time that happened then I probably wouldn't have noticed or cared much but there is another moment where the metrosexual and his gang are able to track down Hanna that given the amount of area they had to cover felt a little too convenient.

Those are minor quibbles though compared to the overall quality of the film with its unique approach to the action/thriller/revenge genre. All the actors were spot on with Saoirse Ronan turning in a particularly inspired performance as Hanna. The soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers was just as unconventional as the film itself which suited it perfectly. And just the general look and feel of the film as a whole was impressive with all the different locales we get to see during Hanna's globe trotting return to her father. This is that rare film that will most likely pick up steam once it hits home video and will definitely find a place on my shelf when that day arrives. So all that is left to say then is to....



Unknown said...

I saw this movie over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. Check it out for sure!

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