Dir. Joe Wright
(2011, PG-13, 111 min)

Hanna is directed by Joe Wright, who previously made Atonement. That seemed odd to me until the coming attractions, which included an action thriller from the director of Shakespeare in Love and a Shakespeare movie from the director of 2012. Go figure. Hanna isn’t much better or worse as a spy thriller than Atonement was as a period romance. Wright doesn’t have the steadiest hand for action, favoring the choppily edited mayhem that’s the standard for a lot of action directors these days, adding a few stylistic flourishes that just end up feeling self-conscious (some slow-motion fisticuffs near the end and a camera that spins for no particular reason during an escape).

The film starts out well but then loses steam. I wasn’t aware of the running time until I looked it up for this review: 111 minutes, too long for a film this light on story. Chopping 10-20 minutes off the back end could only improve matters. It begins with the teenaged title character (Saoirse Ronan, whom Wright directed to an Oscar nod in Atonement) in the Arctic Circle, where her father Erik (Eric Bana) teaches her martial arts, hunting, geography, several languages, and other more arcane knowledge that will allow her to adapt to the outside world. This training will seem silly later on when Hanna is fending for herself and is horrified by the electrical devices in a shabby Moroccan hotel room. If Erik found time to teach Hanna the exact number of facial muscles required to pucker the lips for kissing (which she rattles off in a later scene with encyclopedic detail), might it not have been wise to explain to her what a telephone is?

Everyone's running!

When they decide she’s ready, they set out to ensnare a corrupt CIA agent, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, sinking her teeth into a broadly villainous role using an equally broad Southern accent), who has secrets she will do anything to protect. Thus begins a protracted chase story, which progresses more or less as an alternating sequence of sprints and kerfuffles. There is a lot of running in this film, more running I’d bet than in any German-set action film since Run Lola Run, especially towards the end, where characters race to one location, then to another, and then back again, as if hoping the screenplay will give them something more interesting to do when they get there.

I like the film the most when it’s eccentric. There’s an early scene – a potential throwaway but unusual in a way that enlivens the film – in which Hanna is evaluated by a government psychiatrist, who is shown dead-center in the frame, facing the camera (assuming Hanna’s POV) and speaking in such an eerily placating tone that the effect is almost surreal. Later we’re introduced to Isaacs, a villain so blissfully absurd that I longed for him when he was off-screen. He’s a lackey for Agent Wiegler, a blond German with a penchant for whistling, who in addition to running torture-and-murder errands for Wiegler also owns a nightclub where at one point we see a dwarf and a hermaphrodite rehearsing a performance. His wardrobe includes a tight pair of short shorts and some colorful tracksuits. He’s played by Tom Hollander, an English actor, who plays the role with straight-faced menace but seems to relish the character’s campy excesses.

The characters converge at a run-down theme park inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, which allows Wright to execute impressive shots like one in which Wiegler emerges from the mouth of the Big Bad Wolf; whatever he lacks as an action director, Wright makes good use of sets and locations. But these late scenes also expose how thin the screenplay is; the anticlimactic Big Secret will only surprise you if you’ve never seen a spy movie before. By the end, it just feels like we’re running in place.