dir Joe Wright
scr Seth Lochhead, David Farr
prd Marty Adelstein, Leslie Holleran, Scott Nemes
with Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Martin Wuttke, Sebastian Hulk, Joel Basman, Alvaro Cervantes, Aldo Maland
release US 8.Apr.11, UK 6.May.11
11/UK Focus 1h51
Kung fu fighting: Ronan fends off an attacker

blanchett bana hollander
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Hanna Pacey and offbeat, this cat-and-mouse film keeps us on our toes by layering the action thriller with fairy tale parallels. And the cast is strong enough to keep us engaged even when the plot skips over some glaring implausibilities.

Hanna (Ronan) has spent her entire life deep in the snowy woods, where her ex-spy dad (Bana) has raised her to be the ultimate super-agent. Now 16, she's ready to face up to her wicked nemesis Marissa (Blanchett), the agent who killed her mother. But Marissa has caught her trail, and as they chase each other Marissa calls in a ruthless German henchman (Hollander) for help. Meanwhile, Hanna hides out with a sparky British teen (Barden) whose hippie parents (Williams and Flemyng) have no idea what's going on.

With a plot that's essentially one long chase scene and a central identity-questioning premise, the film has a lot in common with the Bourne thrillers. But Wright anchors the story in characters, not action, so the film almost feels more like a drama, especially since it's centred on a teen girl. She may be tougher than everyone else combined, but her fragility and naivete make her deeply sympathetic. And Ronan plays her beautifully, holding our interest through both the action and emotion.

Meanwhile, Wright intriguingly refers to fairy tales while creating an edgy 1970s vibe, which is augmented by the Chemical Brothers' pulsing electronic score. The bad guys might be a bit cartoonish (Blanchett's teeth! Hollander's whistle!), but this adds to the overall atmosphere and helps us briefly ignore continual plot holes that distract us along the way: Hanna speaks fluent Arabic, but doesn't recognise the language until someone tells her she's in Morocco. She has never seen a lightbulb or telephone, but only barely hesitates before launching an elaborate internet search.

In other words, this film requires as much suspension of disbelief as a full-on fantasy. And the unusual pacing requires a little more effort to stay engaged as things get increasingly intense as the truth behind everything that's happening is slowly, gradually revealed to us (and to Hanna). But the quirky, detailed performances are terrific, and Wright's insistent narrative approach is clever and involving.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 5.Apr.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall