So far the 2011 movie season has had some hits ("Source Code," "Rango," "Insidious") and some notable misses ("Your Highness," "Sucker Punch").
My favorite movie so far is Joe Wright’s "Hanna."
I love "Source Code." It’s a brilliant sci-fi story that really challenges the audience. And I think "Insidious" should be required viewing in Hollywood and not just for horror buffs.
It shows what you can do on a tiny budget. The lesson: budget and effort are two separate things.
"Rango" has the audacity to inject the Spaghetti Western, one of my favorite genres into a CGI family film, and it worked.
I also have to give "Rango" props for having a healthy dose of "Chinatown" in its script. But so far, "Hanna" has been my favorite film of 2011.
I freely admit that if you take out your movie critic checklist, "Hanna" probably comes out with a lower score than the other films. Its story is pretty simple. The highly stylized action scenes take up a good portion of the movie. If you’re not thrilled by the fights and chases then you probably won’t like the film. But for me it really worked. I guess I can’t resist a good fairy tale.
Yes "Hanna" is a fairy tale, one that the Brothers Grimm would be proud of. The original Grimm tales were very, well, grim.
Happy ever after wasn’t added on until much later. I once saw a few of the original tales brought to life at the Met Theater in Los Angeles. There was one where it was nothing but this family dying of one member at a time. It’s fair to say the originals had a lot more in common with slasher films than they did Walt Disney films. A fairy tale is most effective when it includes a little bit of tragedy or the macabre.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
You may think Joe Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr had an easy task. M. Night Shyamalan thought the same thing when he made "Lady In the Water," and look how that turned out.
A project like this needs to strike the right balance from the opening scene.
So "Hanna" begins not like a fairy story but like a Bourne movie.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) live just outside the Arctic Circle.
Her father trains her to be a super self-sufficient, totally merciless killing machine. The plan is to use Hanna to kill the evil spymaster, played by Cate Blanchett, who’s hunting them both.
Despite this bleak setting Hanna still has an innocence about her. Seeing a plane in the sky causes her to burst out with laughter. When her father reads to her the account of Laika, the first dog in space, she wishes somehow the animal wasn’t left to die in orbit. Later before bed, she pages through a book of, what else, fairy tales.
Hanna has been called an art-house "Sucker Punch." I prefer to call it a "Sucker Punch" that remembered to make its central character interesting.
From the first moments, Hanna captures our attention. She is strange and can kick ass, but she’s also a girl who longs for the things she’s never had. She doesn’t even know what these things are, she just knows she wants them.
The movie really kicks into gear when Hanna is captured by the bad guys and then manages to escape.
She crosses paths with a British family on holiday. Some of the best scenes in the movie are how odd and out-of-place Hanna is in the normal world. Simple household electronics scare her.
The carefully rehearsed cover story she spent so much time memorizing sounds like a carefully rehearsed cover story. And first dates are a real problem.
The bad guys keep after her and here is where the real tragedy comes in. Eventually those who run across Hanna also run into Blanchet and her cronies. And while little is shown, it’s implied that it doesn’t end well for these innocents.
The plot is very simple. A daughter is separated from her father and must take a perilous journey to reunite with him. But what happens on the way is funny, exciting, brutal, sad and exhilarating.
And the final line would do the Grimm’s proud.