The teenage title character of Joe Wright's thriller Hanna is well-trained – bred in an arctic Finnish forest by her father, she is beautiful, multilingual, intelligent and, oh yeah, she kills people twice her size with just her bare hands.
Sounds impressive, but after about three minutes in the real world, all of Hanna's highly-polished parts are trumped by her glaringly apparent flaws.
Sensing the metaphor here?
Hanna, like its captivating protagonist, has style, character and everything necessary to be brilliant, but it falters under the weight of its own ambiguity; unresolved plot elements and gratuitous symbolism make for a theater experience that's unsatisfying when it should be intriguing.
It's a shame, because Hanna really could have been great. The material is traditional enough to be accessible while still retaining room for complexity not usually found in the chase-thriller genre.
A young, genetically enhanced girl (played by a stunning Saoirse Ronan) is battle-hardened by her ex-CIA agent father (Eric Bana) who has the implied intent of letting Hanna loose to avenge her mother's death at the hands of the chilling Marissa (Cate Blanchett). While Hanna aims to kill Marissa, Marissa is on a hunt of her own for Hanna and her father. An intricate game of cat and mouse infiltrates the edges of Hanna's coming-of-age story.
The care and detail given to these and the rest of Hanna's characters is incredible and only boosted by the stylized but memorable performances of a talented cast. From the poised, obsessive Marissa, who brushes her perfect teeth until they bleed, to Hanna's new friend Sophie, the hilarious, snarky British girl traveling around Africa and Europe with her wonderfully dysfunctional family, every character is beautifully crafted and expertly acted.
All of this is presented to the audience with a truly distinctive visual style. The shaky camera and bizarre editing sometimes make for a jarring and almost dizzying watch, but the movie is nonetheless rather lovely and aided by a strong, varied soundtrack and a host of atmospheric color schemes.
Judged on each quality individually, the movie sounds exceptional, and that's the problem. In theory, this movie should have been an easy win. Instead, Hanna is so focused on fine-tuning its detail – the characters, symbolism and edgy flair – that it forgoes connecting said details into a logical, exciting plot. The movie absolutely drags in sections; in the end viewers are rewarded with a few vague answers of "how," but not one moment is spent discussing "why." The motivations of principal characters remain frustratingly obscured throughout to the point that the plot becomes neither mysterious nor suspenseful, but simply unfulfilling.
Hanna's pieces are good – some, even, are extraordinary – but the sum of its parts cannot outweigh a whole that is bogged down by its own refusal to explain a single element of itself. In short, Hanna could have been more, and that is the most unsatisfactory aspect of it all.