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Movie Review

Hanna

Teen killing machine meets director overkill

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / April 8, 2011

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There are directors and there are overdirectors, and Joe Wright is one of the more talented and frustrating of the latter. He has overdirected four movies now: the Keira Knightley “Pride & Prejudice,’’ “Atonement,’’ “The Soloist,’’ and “Hanna,’’ which opens today. That list is both chronological and in descending order of impact. There is not a single moment in the new film that is not striking or smartly put together or just plain considered. Wright leaves nothing to chance. I don’t know that there’s a better way to smother a movie.

Which isn’t to say that “Hanna’’ is bad — it rockets along entertainingly enough for most of its running time — only that it’s made with a self-importance the story itself doesn’t warrant.

Wright does, however, get a spooky tightrope walk of a performance out of 16-year-old Saoirse Ronan, his Oscar-nominated “Atonement’’ discovery. She plays the title character, a girl home-schooled to be the very best killing machine an ex-CIA operative could wish for. Hanna can bring down an elk with a bow and arrow, snap necks with aplomb, and parkour up one side of a top-secret desert compound and down the other. She even keeps her room clean. That alone would make her welcome in my house.

Her father/trainer is Erik (Eric Bana), who fled the Company when Hanna was but a babe and has been raising her just south of the Arctic Circle, where there are no shopping malls and a teenage girl has to content herself with precision knife-throwing skills. Eventually even that’s not enough, and Hanna is ready to set out for the revenge that Erik feels is their due.

The film’s written (by Seth Lochhead and David Farr) as a fairy-tale turned inside out, with Hanna a lethal babe emerging from the woods and Erik her helpful woodsman. Or something. Certainly Cate Blanchett goes all out as the movie’s Big Bad Wolf, a coldhearted CIA handler with a syrupy Southern drawl. My, what big teeth she has, the better to eat Hanna, Erik, and all the available scenery. Blanchett turns in a happily preposterous bit of hammery that’s ultimately as shallow as anything else here.

By far the best scenes in “Hanna’’ come after the heroine has busted free of both her father and the government killers who want her dead and hooked up with a European tourist family rambling through Morocco. The parents, played by Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams, are bickering hippies, while their teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden) is as comically worldly as Hanna is lethally naive.

Williams has a couple of small, beautiful moments that reaffirm what last year’s “The Ghost Writer’’ made clear — that she’s a major actress worthy of much bigger roles — and Barden is a deadpan hoot. More crucially, these are the moments when “Hanna’’ is about something; to wit, whether a child who has been trained solely to kill can ever come alive in the company of other people. The sympathetic bafflement flickering through Ronan’s odd gray eyes is drama enough for an entire film.

Not that Wright trusts it. Why should he when every scene can be a storyboarded orgy of perfectly framed action sequences, a cinemaphilic rush in search of meaning and import? “Hanna’’ feels adapted from a graphic novel that has yet to be written and it comes with an excellent electronica score by the Chemical Brothers that rarely lets up. Yet the Brothers Grimm allusions feel increasingly forced — the endgame plays out in a candy house, for Pete’s sake — and believability is not the movie’s strong suit. Exactly how does a girl who was raised without electricity make sense of a computer and the Internet enough to Google critical information in a matter of minutes?

For all the huffing and puffing, “Hanna’’ ends the way most of these movies do, with one character revealing the Big Secret to the heroine in a long, unnecessary monologue, followed by everyone running around with guns. It’s a comedown from a slick, watchable, hollow experience that itself is a comedown from what Joe Wright has done so far.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. To follow him, go to www.twitter.com/tyburr.

HANNA

Directed by: Joe Wright

Written by: Seth Lochhead

and David Farr

Starring: Saoirse Ronan,

Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett,

Olivia Williams

At: Boston Common,

Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 105 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense scenes

of violence and action, some sexual material, language)

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