Shooting Circles Around the Heart of Joe Wright’s Hanna

"So this one time, there was this girl named Hanna, and she was like a super freak, but still totally cool, even though she killed people and stuff."

Hmmm…who knew?  That Joe Wright is quite mad, isn’t he?

In his fourth film, Hanna, director Joe Wright shatters all sensible expectations.  It’s almost as if this (and not the regally refined Pride & Prejudice) was his first film.  Or could this be the first Joe Wright film?  Maybe the rest were compromises, and it is here where he throws everything and the kitchen sink at us and begs, “How do you like me now?”

The art-house action film is a rare breed indeed.  Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run are probably the most well-regarded.  Hanna, about a teenage girl/uber-assassin out for revenge, will likely join the ranks of those two and in some ways surpasses them.

So in this demented girl-power, Euro-trash, Clockwork Orange-esque, quasi-futuristic, 80’s-retro-ish, techno-club music, beat-boxing kaleidoscope of a film, what does Joe Wright throw at us?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the laundry list of treats (potential spoilers ahead) in store for audiences who take on Hanna:

  • There’s an Oscar-winning actress (The Cate Blanchett) sharpening her teeth in her icy cold depiction of a CIA-operative who will stop at nothing to track down the title character.  Her Marissa Wiegler is better than any Bond villain from the last twenty-five years.
Bad-ass Blanchett
  • There’s a super talented young actress (Saoirse Ronan) playing the lead role as if she was in a classic coming-of-age story while at the flip of switch going from wide-eyed-innocent to robotic super killer.
  • There’s a hippy British family with a loquacious daughter providing much-needed comic relief.
  • There are flamboyantly gay assassins straight out of a “Stefon from SNL pipe dream” traipsing across Europe, dancing atop storage units, and whistling creepy tunes. 
  • There’s a hipster-Lynchian play with the sound design as the clanks and clamor of cityscapes and the outside world meld into the kinetic sounds of The Chemical Brothers’ propulsive film score – which proves my theory that it was Wright who decided to have the typewriter keys blend into Dario Marianelli’s Oscar-winning score for Atonement.
  • There’s in-your-face imagery and references to Grimm’s Fairy Tales delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
  • There’s Wright’s fetish with circles (and feet – though that’s another story) leading to near nauseating DePalma-esque spinning camera movements and culminating in a circular narrative denoument echoing the haunting hunting scene at the start of the film where in the end our title character and villain fall blood-soaked out of the wolf hole.  I just missed your heart, Hanna tells both beasts.
  • And finally…there’s a super slick screenplay that doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, leaves some plot points open for interpretation, and others clouded in mystery.

But for all the -esques, quasi-‘s, and -ishes, the film is still decidedly Joe Wright.  Because this is his fourth film and not his first, we’re familiar with his language.  There’s still a refinement to the hyper-kineticism and borderline kitsch here – a “fancy” veneer, shall we say, that you would never find in a Tarantino film.  The film is paradoxically both slow-paced and fast-paced, just as it is both retro and futuristic.  There’s breathtaking cinematography, and almost OCD-like attention to the “look” and costumes and set designs. 

It’s almost as if Wright spent the entire film fighting off the desire to do an extended tracking shot ala the opening dance from Pride & Prejudice or the Dunkirk sequence from Atonement.  It was in those films and those unforgettable moments where his visual bravado evoked the anxiety and forlorn emotions of his characters.  Yet amidst all his playful f-you, film-school-style theatrics here in Hanna, a glimpse of that desire and that longing still bleeds through. 

There’s the haunting first image of Hanna’s mother, her beautiful face fading into a dark, cold night only to be annihilated by the sounds of three gun shots…which later leads to one of the film’s most cathartic and funniest lines. 

There’s that friendly family taking in a girl they think lost, innocently asking after learning her mother is dead…Oh, what did you mother die from, Hanna?

Without missing a beat, our hero replies…Three bullets.

And though Hanna claims to keep missing, it’s in those tiny circular moments where she and her director shoot us right through the heart.

Written by David H. Schleicher



  1. David: You’ve made a great point-by-point case for the film, and I can’t deny I am a fan of Wright’s after ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I thought Ronan was perfect for the lead, and the concept was cleaver, but it seemed to be transmuted with a trowel. I plan on seeing this a second time though; I owe that much to Wright, and to you for this excellent piece!

  2. […] David Schleicher has penned an excellent review of Joe Wright’s Hanna at The Schleicher Spin:                         […]

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