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Thursday, April 7, 2011

All About 'Hanna'

Ladies with guns, pants suits, and sensible winter coats. Hallelujah!

When I first heard that Joe Wright, the director who made me enjoy Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, perhaps my two least favorite books, was working on a lady-centric action thriller, I was stoked. Since P&P came out in 2005 I've had a hopeful eye on Wright, watching as he blazed a trail of period drama through a film industry dominated by the blandest of branded, packaged, genre directors.

I am simultaneously jealous and immensely proud that Wright was able to start his feature career with a pair of excellent, well-paced, visually-stimulating, SUCCESSFUL dramas, not unlike my favorite director, the insurmountable David Lean. Filmmakers like Lean, and now Wright, truly love cinema, and prove it in the way they effortlessly ping pong between world wars, classic literature, and brief encounters without losing an iota of depth. I hope to one day join their ranks as a ruthlessly dedicated dramatic storyteller, but for now I'm just ecstatic that Wright is out there reclaiming Hollywood from board-game adaptations.

Wright's latest, Hanna, is the first of his films in which you get the sense that he could truly go wild with the material, and it doesn't disappoint. Hanna is an energetic blend of sound, story, and cinematography that keeps the endorphins rushing long after you've left the theater. Hanna is the type of film every Hollywood director should be making. Unfortunately most of them can't.

Hanna answers my dichotomous, ever-present complaint: "Do smart films have to be slow? Do action films have to be dumb?" with a resounding no, and dives head-first down its rabbit hole into an action-packed coming-of-age story the likes of which audiences haven't seen in Hollywood for a long time. The film's excellent score by the Chemical Brothers helps set a frenetic, music video-like pace to the action, and the film sounds like it's been dipped in the backing track to Nine Inch Nails' Closer.

What really makes Hanna special is that the best thing about it isn't its thumping score and stylish visuals, or even Eric Bana's ass-kicking one-take in a Berlin subway station: it's Saoirse Ronan and the untouchable Cate Blanchett who dominate every frame. While the story is fairly simplistic and albeit predictable in places, the nuanced performances of these two ladies gives Hanna a wonderful depth lacking in most mainstream shoot-em-ups and the match up between Ronan, an ethereal super soldier, and Blanchett, a kind of evil Dana Scully (complete with cherry-red bob) is very refreshing. Both play brutal killing machines, but they're some of the most well-rounded, empathetic killing machines we've seen on screen in a while.

If the trades can to accuse directors like Zack Snyder of crafting well-rounded, empowered female characters, Joe Wright should be convicted immediately. Again like Lean (whom I'm starting to suspect Wright idolizes ALMOST as much as I do--anyone want to read an essay on the similarities between Summertime and Brief Encounter?), Wright knows how to leave bullshit feminine stereotypes by the wayside and focus on women characters as individuals with specific wants and needs. I can't believe it was necessary that this be pointed out in 2011, but we all know that stereotypes are all too present, and that Wright is under no obligation to represent woman as anything other than gossiping hens and shrieking ingenues. So good on Wright, and let Hollywood know that we love awesome movies with awesome ladies by SEEING HANNA THIS WEEKEND.

You'll enjoy it, I promise!

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