In the preface to A Gentle Creature, Fyodor Dostoevsky seamlessly integrates an eerie, fantastical quality into a story of a girl's suicide and the after-effects it has on her hypochondriac husband. What director Joe Wright does in Hanna is not in any way similar to what the Russian master did; what is similar, however, is the way in which Wright slips in the fairy-tale elements into a full-blown action thriller.
The choice of Finnish locations, where he sets a part of the story, heightens that sense of fantasy. It seems Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), the title heroine, grew up with the Bride of Tarantino's Kill Bill. Both are trained to kill, seek revenge and ultimately meet a strange destiny. More importantly, in doing so, they lose out on the ordinariness of life, the simplicity of complex emotions and relationships that are key to human survival.
Divorced from the everyday, Hanna has been prepared by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) for the worst. Yet, she tells him with sangfroid, "You didn't prepare me for this." She's referring to her run-in with the CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who's deviously ganging up against Hanna and Erik. It is revealed that Erik was once a CIA agent and worked in a special program. Both Marissa and Erik have bones to pick with each other, a dispute which can only be settled with death.
Hanna is not a one-track narrative and that's why every time it turns a corner there's something new that tumbles out. Wright clutches his characters' secrets and futures close to his chest. It's clear that more than a fast-paced thriller Wright intended Hanna to be a spectacle. Wright's informed worldview, born to parents who ran a puppet theatre, his proclivity towards children's material and of course his prior knowledge of literary adaptations (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) converge all at once, reflecting in his handling of the plot in Hanna.
The fairy-tale undercurrents that were suggested at the beginning of this review are underscored by obvious references to The Little Mermaid and Red Riding Hood fables. Beneath its wicked conspiracies and surrealistic symbolisms, Hanna strikes one as a rather simple tale of an upbringing-gone-wrong. Saoirse's Hanna is too cold for a teenager, barely 16. She shows little emotions but with a life spent in wilderness, most of it alone, can one expect otherwise? Hanna seems to have no link with humanity whatsoever, as if her training to kill was performed at the expense of her training to be human and nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene in which she knocks a guy down when he tries to plant a kiss.
You aren't taken aback when she does that, the ease with which she draws him close, gives him the right signals and then throws a punch at him like a brutal boxer. It is this ferocity in her that is disturbing. Girls like Hanna and the Bride, after all, are born to pull the trigger.