(Joe Wright, 2011)
Is it better for an Action film to attempt to engage with the real world? The Bourne films, which are the pre-eminent Action films of the last decade, are set in, and to some extent offer a commentary upon, our World of CCTV and the War on Terror, distrust of Government and depersonalisation, cluttered as they are with the tech-details of the modern world; mobile phones and computers and the impossibility of ever getting off the grid. They are fine films, enriched by this sense of topicality. But some of the films which have sought to replicate the success of the Bourne franchise fall down when this part of the equation is attempted. Best perhaps to allow for the influence of those hyper-kinetic, dizzyingly edited action scenes and place them in an entirely different context.
Which is what Joe Wright does with Hanna. It is a movie for the DVD era, a collection of exquisitely imagined and mounted sequences, flicking between moods and tones expertly, all narrative forward momentum and effortless cinematic storytelling. The film it most reminded me of was Tarantino's Kill Bill in its disarming status as a narrative defined almost purely by its relation to other narratives. Here it is Fairy Tales, as acknowledged by the recurrent references to the Brothers Grimm, but it is also a spy movie and there are action movies and martial arts films in this stew too. And it's quite an eclectic stew; stir in genetic engineering, skinhead heavies, British middle class satire, some lovely travelogue material, a little free-running and a few flashes of sci-fi imagery for the full, slightly dizzying effect. Wright somehow makes it work.
Where Kill Bill is a self-indulgent gatefold double album on vinyl, Hanna is a pure and almost perfect three minute dose of electropop on mp3; short, fun, infectious and disposable.
Wright directs like a filmmaker let off the leash and the film flashes with unexpected shards of visual beauty amidst the brutal, adrenalized fight and chase scenes. These are staged mainly in the forgotten, unloved public spaces of Western Europe; a German subway, a labyrinth of shipping containers in the docks at a French mediterranean port, waste ground in a housing estate.
The film portrays the varying shades and moods of this Europe very well, from warm summer nights in the orange and yellow of Spain to the exhausting urban sprawl of grey Berlin. The cast are all fine, catching the tricky mood easily - never has Ronan's otherworldly, slightly alien look been so well utilised - and the Chemical Brothers score pulses and chimes to great effect.
Its a slick, pleasurable watch throughout. Wright understands the medium and it's visceral and sensuous potential entirely; so Hanna is full of interesting, vivid textures and brilliantly captured instants. He is a thoroughly modern director, like his namesake Edgar Wright or the aforementioned Tarantino, in that for all his brilliance as a craftsman and his technical prowess, he seems to have little to say about the world or the people in it, a suspicion which arose from viewings of his previous prestige adaptations of literary novels Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, expertly made though both were. But that is perhaps why Hanna is his best film, intent as it is on being a thrilling pop artefact, with little substance but bags of style and enough quirk - in its direction and some of its supporting performances (Tom Hollander's turn as a camp peroxide blonde assassin is as memorable as anything he's done) - to attract art house audiences.
Most importantly in an action film, it gets the action right. Ronan has a few thrilling fight scenes, but the film's best sequence belongs to Eric Bana. Wright's camera follows him in one fluid shot as he gets off a coach, strolls through a bus station, realises he is being followed, descends on an escalator into a subway, then is confronted by and fights four suited men at once. It's a great moment, and one of the better action scenes of the last few years in one of the more interesting action films.