Oh Hanna, what big eyes you have. Hanna (Soairse Ronan) may be a mini-me version of Evelyn Salt, but she's just as ruthless. In the opening scene of the film our adolescent assassin stalks and skewers an elk in the snow before methodically removing its entrails. (Dinner time!). She lives in the frigid Scandinavian woods with her father (Eric Bana) who puts her through his own brand of "home schooling": sneak up attacks, target practice, hand to hand combat. (You know, the usual). Hanna and her Papa are something like HitGirl and BigDaddy if you removed the sense of humor and rubber suits. But Papa is training her for something important. And when the CIA come looking for this blonde badass we're glad he did because the eponymous heroine ends up alone on a cross-continental picaresque.
Of course Hanna isn't all kung fu and gun play. A teenage girl, she still takes a moment, after butchering that elk, to lovingly pat two German Shepherds with dear affection. And when she makes friends with a chippy Brit named Sophie we learn that even those raised to kill possess hearts somewhere deep inside. And that's just the contrast that director Joe Wright (Atonement) utilizes to humanize Hanna. It nearly works. But Wright's main contribution is pumping this fugitive-on-the-run thriller with so much juice I could see sparks. The base pumping, rock score (by The Chemical Brothers), numerous shock/jump cuts and adrenaline charged chase scenes provide a visceral panoply for a plot that gets increasingly, well ... preposterous.
I won't get into Hanna's abnormal genetic makeup; or her family history; or why a murderess CIA operative with a southern draw named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) wants Hanna dead, or alive (or whatever) because, frankly, most of it didn't make any sense. But I will admit, while I watched, such things didn't much cross my mind. Two reasons: Wright's direction is edgy and electric (even if it does sacrifice substance for style) and Saoirse Ronan, who has riveted me in every film in which she's appeared, manages to tell Hanna's whole tumultuous story with merely her eyes. In sparse moments of childlike levity they pop and glow, and when she moves in for the kill they roll over white with the hunting ferocity of a shark.
Yet Hanna's creators aren't too interested in such fascinating duplicity. (At least not anymore than they are in genetic engineering, the ethics that go with them, or any of the other half-dozen themes they graze but never explore). The movie, instead, spends most of its mid-section playing with fish-out-of-water comedy bits, like when Hanna choke holds some Spanish lover-boy on date night. And the denouement tidies up with a fairly clever Grimm analogy with Hanna as an ass-kicking red riding hood confronting Marissa's Wiegler's pistol-packing big bad wolf. Hanna may be far from perfect, but through Ronan's protean gaze it will certainly be the best ultra-violent, mutant fairy tale of 2011.