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Not every movie must be driven by characters. Some may be shoved forward in spite of themselves by a Chemical Brothers soundtrack. Or so hopes director Joe Wright, formerly of Pride & Prejudice and most recently of The Soloist, who now brings us the steadily grooving but swiftly degenerating faux-fairy-tale revenge thriller or gangling music video known as Hanna.
Saoirse Ronan, the precocious Oscar nominee from Wright's Atonement, plays a motherless teenager who has grown up in the arctic Scandinavian forest under CIA runaway Eric Bana's dogged tutelage in the lethal-badass arts. Now she's poised to rejoin the exotic and affectedly dangerous rest of the world — which mostly means fending off Cate Blanchett, as a sinister American agent with whom Bana's character has a bad history, while en route to reunite with him in Berlin.
Some danger along the way is to be expected. But, whether it has to do with the engineering of genes or of plot, there is also the sense that Hanna can take care of herself. She doesn't need — well, anybody, really, including us. So may we be excused?
Not without a fight. In Hanna, Wright's style seems to consist of rehashing passé thriller tricks and trying really hard to be cool, or at least to be not just a limited specialist of The Well-Made Adaptation of The Well-Made Book™. Certainly Hanna is something else — something even more limiting. Screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr seem to enable Wright's wandering and squandering: Shapeless supporting roles allow for, among other travesties, an overacting Blanchett and an underused Olivia Williams.
Ronan, meanwhile, does her best to just get through all the desperately fancy camera moves and the tellingly hesitant camp, presided over by Tom Hollander as Blanchett's mincing, jumpsuited minion. She also manages to make time for a quick tour of Morocco and many wondrous new discoveries contained therein, including electricity, horny boys and irritating comic relief from a randomly available would-be friend played by Jessica Barden. (Yes, a brief feeling of exotic possibility does emerge in these sun-soaked scenes, but soon enough it's squashed by adamant plotting.) And of course, when pressed, she manages to apply what she has learned of the lethal-badass arts.
As for her trainer, he comports himself with amenity, although no one would blame him for misbehaving. A showy one-take fight between Bana and a handful of bad guys, superfluous and preposterous to begin with, also seems weirdly over-rehearsed and full of pulled punches. Otherwise, he passes the time by practicing his Werner Herzog impression. Come to think of it, maybe he is misbehaving.
In hindsight it seems depressingly ill-advised for Wright to even bother attempting this Femme Nikita foolishness at all. Yet there he goes busying himself with pretentious allusions to harrowing fairy tales, apparently and unfortunately unaware that Hanna might more successfully have feigned a learned comment on beauty and valor by exploiting Ronan's very real resemblance to Botticelli's Venus in "Venus and Mars."
Or maybe, probably, that would just be even more ridiculous. Can there be any respite from artless, directionless art direction? Well, at least there's the soundtrack.