Review: Hanna (2011)

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl. Uniquely, she has the strength, the stamina, and the smarts of a soldier; these come from being raised by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative. Living a life unlike any normal teenager, her upbringing and training have all geared towards making her the ideal assassin.

The turning point in her adolescence is unquestionably acute: sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys covertly across Europe while deceiving agents sent after her by a adamant intelligence officer (Cate Blanchett). As she closes in on her ultimate target, Hanna faces terrifying revelations about her existence.

Hanna is a cross between fantastical fairytale odyssey – with multiple references being made to The Brothers Grimm – and an action-thriller in the vein of Bond or Bourne. It’s an amalgamation that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but thanks to an on-form Joe Wright (who surprisingly doesn’t look out of his comfort zone), it holds together brilliantly.

Ronan delivers yet another exceptional performance as Hanna, and admirably proves herself to be the most versatile actress of her age-range. She’s entirely believable as both an assassin and as a vulnerable, innocent young girl facing the harsh truths of reality for the very first time. Not only does Ronan kicks ass in her fervid action scenes, but she also captures the vulnerable side beautifully, which is wonderfully represented in the sweet yet irresolute relationship she strikes up with a vacationing family.

Blanchett is equally impressive as Ronan. She plays the ruthless CIA agent Marissa Wiegler with an astonishingly cold, suitably heartless zeal. It’s a real thrill to see her inhabit a supporting role so assuredly. Bana, on the other hand, brings humility to what is essentially a harsh and coercive character, but it isn’t enough to make Erik feel as essential to the narrative as he should.

Jessica Barden, as Ronan’s unlikely friend Sophie, injects a much-needed touch of humour and candor, showing exactly how naive people can be when they’re oblivious to the horrors of the world. Olivia Williams pops up as Sophie’s mother, and shares a delightfully testy exchange with Blanchett’s Marissa.

The plot does contain a few pitfalls, inconsistencies and hokum analogies, but they never become too much of an issue. The relentless pace, subtly witty dialogue and surefire levelheadedness that never takes itself too seriously let the viewers choose whether or not to dig deeper, and it is this that helps skip swiftly over the flaws.

Wright’s direction is utterly dazzling. He finds the right balance over a range of camera angles: from the sweeping long shot to intense, hand-held photography, blending the visceral action with the in-depth character-based drama.

By indulging in consistently sharp and comic-book like editing, Wright is able to enhance the velocity of the action and tenacious mood of the film, intercutting it with bewitching scenery shots.

Along with cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler, he also uses some very unique set pieces to stage the films penetrating action sequences, including sewers, underground bunkers, and an abandoned amusement park. This works a treat as it makes the film feel more pragmatic, rather than something too science-fiction. In addition, by using off-key lighting and wondrous editing techniques, the fantastical feel is left to flourish, but in a way that maintains the mystery and element of intrigue.

The Chemical Brothers’ score brings all the incredible elements together magnificently, strikingly capturing the stamina, acuity and ruthlessness of the piece as a whole.

Hanna is a superb adrenaline-fuelled action-thriller come fantasy tale, with assured direction, solid acting, stylish cinematography and a blistering score to boot.

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Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Matt Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) – a woman like none he’s ever known.

But just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of fate itself – the men of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ – who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.

In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path…or risk everything to defy fate and be with her.

Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story Adjustment Team, George Nolfi’s directorial debut has all the typical elements of a traditional thriller, but instead –  and to its merit – shifts focus onto the sincerity of its love story, the intensity and sting of its dialogue and the poignancy of its two lead characters.

Nolfi’s script is compellingly light on its feet, merrily skimming over any laboured exposition on the deep, underlying questions in an old-fashioned Hollywood way; and there’s a wonderfully pleasant, authentically believable echantment between Damon and Blunt.

Visually, the film is stylishly shot by John Toll. The sumptuous New York backdrop is bathed for all its worth, resolving the action sublimely with a peerless top-of-the-world, eloquent climax, thanks in no part to the pulsating score and symbolic use of natural lighting through mise-en-scène.

In terms of drama, The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t quite set all lights blazing, and the overall story lacks in the kind of gut-wrenching twist or moment of pathos that would propel it to a higher stature. But in no way shape or form does this infringe upon the overall point of the film – the sincere, clever and unique romantic nature.

The heart of the film, and the films most impressive element, is the plausible relationship between David and Elise, so exquisitely played by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, who both exude a captivating level of warmth and naturalism that makes their potentially life-threatening romance instantly credible and captivating to behold.

Damon sturdily channels David’s bruised side, contrasting this with his level-headed political disposition, giving an extraordinarily full-bodied, comprehensive performance, one that will undoubtedly be shamefully overlooked.

And Blunt, in arguably her most enthralling role since The Devil Wears Prada, undercuts Elise’s cutting, untrustworthy exterior with her honest, vulnerable inner heart to perfect, pertinent avail. Her ballet skills may not be the best, but she more than makes up for that in other, more necessary areas.

The supporting actors, most notably a very impressive Anthony Mackie, a slick and crafty John Slattery, and an always on-form Terence Stamp, deliver committed, uniformly ardent turns as various members of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’.

The Adjustment Bureau is a fun, thought-provoking uniquely discerning and superbly acted entertainment romance-thriller. Unlike the marking campaign suggests, it isn’t Bourne meets Inception, but it does have the necessary ingredients to stand out as a solid piece of filmmaking.