There's something to be said for living off the grid. You can hunt your food with bow and arrow, read by candlelight, wrap yourself in animal fur for the long winters.
You can study languages - German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic. And if you're a young girl named Hanna and you live just south of the Arctic Circle with your taciturn dad, you can practice hand-to-hand combat and weapon skills and do chin-ups together. And then, one day, you can go out into the world and kill a bunch of people.
In Hanna, a rip-roaring fairy tale cloaked in spy clothing, Saoirse Ronan is that girl, a mysterious waif raised by her "rogue asset" father - a runaway secret agent who speaks in Nordic rhythms and is played with ferret-y intensity by Eric Bana. At a certain point in Joe Wright's adrenalized action pic, Hanna finds it necessary to revisit civilization (if, in fact, she'd ever seen it before). Carnage and corpses are left in her wake. Cue the Chemical Brothers - let the chases and chopsocky fights begin!
Hanna is a goofy and exhilarating mash-up of all sorts of things. Luc Besson's The Professional comes to mind, as do the propulsive synth-syncopations of Run Lola Run and the dark allegorical menace of Grimms fairy tales ('tis the season, it seems, but this is miles beyond Amanda Seyfried's Red Riding Hood). Even elements of the melancholy sci-fi parable Never Let Me Go figure into the mix.
That said, Wright - who began his film career directing Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, and employed the Irish lass Ronan in the refined adaptation of Atonement - puts his own stamp on this nutty business. Hanna is surprisingly violent and nasty at turns, yet almost always amusing. There's an elaborate escape sequence - Hanna whacking squads of armed guards as she trots around an angular concrete structure - that's Bond-meets-Bauhaus. And hitching a ride through Morocco with an English family, Hanna is befriended by the bratty daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden). She's the sort of precocious teen who's hopelessly sophisticated, and hopelessly freckled, and makes declarations along the lines of "My fungal nail infection is back."
And here comes Cate Blanchett, in suits and stilettos and Southern accent, one-upping wicked Tilda Swinton in the Narnia pictures. Blanchett is Marisa Wiegler, a CIA ringmaster with some ominous connection to the intrepid title character.
Can Hanna be read as a parable about the children of divorce? Maybe, but that would be silly. Female empowerment? Sure, why not - if empowerment means kicking a lot of butt. Better to think of this business as an Englishman's take on pop Euro thrillers - more agile than their American counterparts, with a wicked sensibility that borders on kink. What to make of the sinister henchman played by Tom Hollander, a depraved Teuton who wobbles around in pursuit of the girl?
Ronan, with her white skin and pale eyes, is Hanna's center of gravity, and she runs and rumbles, hinting at vulnerability but showing the mettle and resourcefulness that are at the core of her character's being. Blanchett teeters (on those heels) dangerously toward camp, and when things get to an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of Berlin, replete with gingerbread house and the giant maw of a big bad wolf, maybe Wright gets too obvious for his own good.
But never mind. Hanna rocks.