Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. Her mother the queen had been killed by an evil witch, and she and her father the king had been banished to a faraway land of ice and snow. Here the princess learned to be strong, to survive the wild, to hunt and to hide. And she learned to fight. And when she was ready she returned to the land of her birth to face the evil witch and avenge her mother’s murder. And the princess lived happily ever after.
Or something like that.
In director Joe Wright’s action thriller fairy tale follow up to Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist, the princess is Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a 16-year old girl raised in isolation in the frozen wastes of Finland. She’s trained by her father (Eric Bana), not so much a king as an ex-CIA operative, trained to be an assassin for the sole purpose of killing the witch Marissa (Cate Blanchett), also CIA but from higher up the food chain, who murdered her mother years ago.
Ronan, who cut her teeth in Wright’s Atonement, is a force of nature here. She is at turns as cold and ruthless as any silver screen assassin, able to use her apparent childlike helplessness to lure a target in for the kill, and genuinely wide-eyed and innocent, quite literally seeing the world for the first time. And she is equally as believable and compelling an actress in both roles. The film is an odd mix of Bourne-style spycraft and the sort of art-house coming of age stories usually associated with Focus Features. It’s a beautiful film to look at, though I have to dock it some points for it’s use of handheld camera at times. Though it never even comes close to the stomach-churning excess of any of the Bourne films, it’s still frustrating to have such an elegantly shot work sullied by the ubiquitous shaky-cam nonsense that Hollywood is so damned obsessed with in recent years.
Though pale and waifish Ronan is hands down the star of this piece, her co-stars do some great work as well, with Blanchett as the frigid bitch villain a particular joy. Her faux Southern accent could have been distracting, but instead adds to the mask of humanity she tries to wear to conceal her monstrousness. Eric Bana as Hanna’s well-meaning if morally questionable father does a fine job, though I find he’s kind of just playing a role he’s played many times before. Still, he has some touching moments with his daughter, and at least one impressive and explosive ass-kicking scene. (Though Ronan could still take him, I’ve no question.)
If I had to nitpick the film, in addition to the handheld camerawork I mentioned above, I’d say that having the sort of fairy tale parable wrap up at an abandoned amusement park which includes a gingerbread house and an actual, giant Big Bad Wolf figure was just a tad on the nose. And once the story goes where you pretty much expect it to go it just kind of… stops. It felt rather sudden.
But those really are just nitpicks. All in all I really enjoyed this film.
Length: 111 Minutes