American action-adventure meets European art house in Hanna, a visually beguiling if thematically opaque take on the old standby, the cat-and-mouse game. That it ultimately turns into a femme vs. femme showdown almost as thrilling, in its chilly, reserved way, as Ripley going up against the she-beast in Aliens is just one of Hanna's many diversions.
Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, The Way Back) is Hanna, a 16-year-old raised in splendidly icy isolation in northern Finland by a former secret agent, Erik (Eric Bana). In what may be the best advertisement for home-schooling yet, he not only teaches her to hunt game, speak multiple languages and stay physically fit, he also instructs her in the arts of self-defense -- something she's definitely going to need.
Once the student is able to humble the master, he gives her a choice. They can remain living off the grid or they can re-enter society and take what comes with it: namely, his old spy-game nemesis, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), who is going to be hunting them like Elmer Fudd chasing after Bugs Bunny during rabbit season.
The plot doesn't really matter, though -- the pleasures are in other details. British director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, The Soloist), working from a screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, brings his rather detached, artful sensibility to what could have been a routine, predictable action exercise. So, instead of the expected rhythms of the usual Hollywood fare, Hanna feels more like a remix, familiar yet foreign.
There are dazzling sequences, most notably a fight in a subway station between Erik and a group of Marissa's henchmen, and Hanna being chased across and through a maze of shipping containers.
The supporting roles are also wonderfully cast. Tom Hollander (In the Loop, The Soloist) is gloriously menacing as Isaacs, Marissa's effeminate hit man who's always accompanied by his two skinhead thugs. But it's Jessica Barden (Tamara Drewe) who nearly steals the show as the smart-mouthed daughter of a vacationing family with whom Hanna takes refuge. This character deserves a movie of her own.
But it really all boils down to Ronan (playing tough yet vulnerable in an extremely athletic role) and Blanchett (frosty as an icicle and twice as brittle), and it's a fun battle to watch come to a head.
Ultimately though, it's hard to care too much about what's going on. Hanna often feels more like an ingenious exercise that goes on a bit too long, a film that's easy to admire but harder to love. Then again, considering some of the cinematic competition out there these days, admiration isn't such a bad thing.